Interview with CJ Murphy

Posted by Jason Ferruggia on January 18, 2007

Originally written in 2005 for Elite Fitness Systems

This week I have the pleasure of introducing you to the newest member or our writing staff, CJ Murphy. Raised in Boston’s roughest housing projects, Murph has gone on to make quite a name for him in the strength and conditioning industry and was recently named one of the top 25 trainers in the US by Men’s Health magazine. An avid strongman competitor and powerlifter, Murph has years of experience in the game and knows what it takes to get bigger, stronger and faster. Although he has the unique ability to speak in a language that everyone can understand and can get his point across without quoting 57 different studies, he is extremely well educated in the field and knows more about training than most people you will ever meet. If you need him to, he can recite the studies and books in question. He just chooses to rely on real world experience first and foremost, which makes him a hell of a coach in our eyes. Aside from being one of the brightest stars in our industry Murph is one of the most genuinely real people you will ever meet with an incredibly quick wit and great sense of humor. Without further adieu, I present the newest member of the Hostile Takeover, CJ Murphy.

JF: Murph, before we get started could you tell our readers about the first time we met and the feelings you had for me at the time?

Murph: Are you kidding me, what kind of question is that? Are you trying to get in touch with your feminine side Jay? You’ve been spending too much time with Cosgrove.

JF: Well he does rub off on me a bit or to me whichever you prefer. I must say though, that the text messages and emails you send me tell a different story but I’ll let you uphold your tough guy image. Tell us a little bit about your background growing up in the “mean streets of Boston.”

Murph: I don’t know how mean the mean streets are, but I grew up in a section of Boston best known for hockey, and bank robbery. It was a 100% Irish Catholic, blue collar neighborhood. I grew up for the first half in the Bunker Hill Housing Projects, which was, and still is a pretty rough section. We then moved to the other side of town when my mom bought a house in the “nice” section. The town is only one square mile, so it wasn’t a big move. Let’s just say that the kids I hung around with were not honor students.

JF: Isn’t it true that the Bunker Hill Housing Projects was recently named the most dangerous neighborhood in all of Boston?

Murph: Yes it is.

JF: Well in that case, Murph, I hope you know that when I joke with you it’s only in good fun. Moving on, can you tell us how you got started training?

Murph: I think I got started the same way many of us did, I tortured my mother to get me a DP 110 pound vinyl weight set, and the bench press multi bench. I went in the basement and tacked the poster of exercises that came with it on the wall and tried to get huge. It didn’t work too well, but I kept plugging away. I eventually joined what I thought was the most hardcore gym I ever saw, because it was pretty much the only one I ever saw. It sucked, it was a chain that is out of business now, Living Well Fitness. It should have been called Living Hell. What kind of a business let’s a 13 year old kid sign a contract? I went there almost every day, and even then, I was one of the only guys squatting! I read everything I could get my hands on about training, magazines, books, especially Fred Hatfield’s work. I think Bill Starr and Fred Hatfield were two of my earliest influences. I also used to love to watch World’s Strongest Man on TV, and think how cool it would be to do that some of that stuff.

I was lucky enough to stumble into a local Gold’s Gym, when they were still real gyms. This place was HARDCORE, even by EFS standards. They had tons of iron, a platform, a few pro bodybuilders trained there (Mattarazo, Demayo, Smith), and a bunch of powerlifters. This was in the mid- eighties . I was lucky enough to learn form a crew of local guys who were competing all the time, including Steve Cardillo (Cardillo weight belts), and they taught me the value of hard work in the gym.

As I got older, and continued to learn everything I could from anyone who would teach me, I started to develop my own opinions, and Louie’s columns in PLUSA really reinforced a lot of the same stuff I had been interested in, and he really opened my eyes to Eastern training methods.

I eventually made my way to strongman training and competiton, it was like the next progression for me. I had been involved in martial arts and boxing for many years and got burned out on it, and needed something new. Strongman was it, I haven’t looked back since.

JF: When did you decide that you wanted to make a living in strength and conditioning?

Murph: I was working in a kickboxing/boxing gym, and I was writing training programs for fighters, and some of the regular customers, and realized this is the best job in the world! How do I get better at this, and make a living at the same time? The light kind of went off in my head at that point.

JF: What is it that you love about your job?

Murph: This sounds stupid, but we help people change their lives for the better. That is probably the best part. I don’t care if it’s a pro athlete, or someones grandmother, when you can get someone to WANT to give 100% and be the best that they can be, that is great. It also doesn’t suck when your athletes win titles, and set world records. That is pretty cool too.

JF: Definitely. What are some of the hardest or most stressful parts of your job?

Murph: For me finding balance is the most difficult. I have a family, a full time job as a strength coach, another full time job with the Sheriff’s Department, a business to run, articles to write….I need more hours in the day. I think finding time for things outside work is, at least for me, the most difficult.

JF: You’ve carved a niche for yourself in the industry and have become known as “the strongman guy,” so to speak. I, of course know that there is so much more to your scope of knowledge than just strongman training but that is what you are known for so let’s discuss that a bit. How can the average athlete or lifter benefit from including strongman training into his program and why should he or she do this?

Murph: We have definitely been pigeonholed into this at TPS, but it is not so bad. I think that not only the average athlete, but everyone can benefit from this type of training. You don’t have to use contest weights when training people. You need to use appropriate weights with your goals in mind. With that said, anyone will make progress by introducing new movements into their training. Why not introduce fun activities that produce great results instead of having them suck in the navel as they stand on a stability ball while patting their heads? Strongman training is true “Functional” training (I hate that phrase). It works the whole body in a way nothing else can. It can be loaded for any goal too, conditioning, strength, speed, etc.

JF: What are some very basic strongman exercises that you would recommend to everyone?

Murph: Farmers Walks are very basic, as is heavy sled dragging, and car/truck pushing and pulling. These are lifts that don’t need a ton of specialized technique, and can be done just about anywhere with a minimal investment in equipment. Some heavy dumb bells, a rope and a broken old wheelbarrow can be made into a sled if you can’t afford one, and cars are everywhere for pushing and pulling.

JF: You demonstrate all of these exercises in your DVD, correct?

Murph: Thanks for the plug Jay, of course we do. We also demonstrate the more technical lifts, with slow motion breakdowns, and freeze frames. Some of the more technical ones are Atlas stones, and log lifting.

JF: Anyone that doesn’t have this should definitely pick up a copy as soon as possible (click here for Murph’s DVD) How often should this type of training be done?

Murph: I think it depends on too many factors to honestly answer that. It really depends on your goals, but it can be done in some way every session. For example, have the athletes do Farmers walks at the end of their workout with heavy dumb bells (if you don’t have f/w implements). On the next day, they can do some sandbag work, and car pushing on another day. You can apply a full Westside/Strongman hybrid routine (as described in my article on this site), keep your eye out, there is another one coming out soon with more templates for your enjoyment.

JF: Because there is very little eccentric loading in most of the strongman events, is it harder to overtrain on these exercises or do you not take that into consideration?

Murph: I think just the opposite Jay! In my experience, using stones for example, many beginners overtrain the shit out of this. Because of the lack of eccentric, the perceived exertion isn’t as high, but the neurological demand, due to speed needed (like in Olympic lifts) is ridiculous. Some freaks like Wendler could probably start out doing the same volume as a pro strongman with no ill effects, but the rest of us mortals will quickly overtrain. Especially the biceps! Beginners to this style of training really need to watch the total volume.

JF: If you could only do one strongman type exercise with an athlete what would it be and why?

Murph: I would do Atlas Stones personally, because I like them, and they work for me, although I suck at them! For 99% of athletes though, it is definitely the Farmers Walk, and I’ll tell you why. The Farmers Walk builds cartoonish strength in the ankle/knee/hip/grip and torso. It also hits the glute medius, which is often grossly under trained. The upper back gets smoked too. It can be used for conditioning, strength building, you name it. The Farmers Walk does not require $5000.00 worth of equipment, you can get Farmers Walk handles from my site for less than a set of 45 pound plates, or what you spend at the No Tell Motel with those “Ladies”.

JF: If you had to pick traditional gym lifts or strongman lifts only to train an athlete which would you use and why?

Murph: I wouldn’t want to pick one over the other, but if I had too, it would be squats over stones. The main reason is because the Strongman lifts are pretty technical, and frequently misunderstood, and misused. There are many good training plans you can buy or download for free weight training if you are a strength coach. I am not one of those guys who thinks his niche is the magic bullet or the only way to do things. I do believe that as part of a superior training program, strongman events will make a dominant athlete when used appropriately.

JF: I know you are a big proponent of thick bars in your training. Could you tell us why thick bar training can be so beneficial?

Murph: Jay, thick bars are the shit. Training with thick bars adds a different dynamic to every exercise you use one on. Your grip gets stressed much more, and what athlete doesn’t need a strong grip? When doing pressing exercises, especially overhead, balance is affected as well. Much more dynamic stabilization is required of the athlete. Thick bars generally don’t rotate either, so when doing cleans or snatches it really gets interesting.

JF: I know you want to be politically correct here but I don’t really care about that so I would just like to mention that anyone who read a magazine article by a famous guru claiming to have found a guy to personally design thick bars and handles for him and his athletes was completely duped. Murph was the one who was having this stuff created and our little “yoda” friend stole this info and told the nation that he had come up with it.

With that out of the way why don’t you ell us a little bit about your history competing in strongman?

Murph: I was hoping you wouldn’t ask! I’m known around the gym as the 9th Strongest Man on Lower Broadway! Seriously though, I have not competed for a few years because of a knee injury that has hampered my event training. I’m trying events out events for the past few months, and things are going well, so I’d like to make a comeback this year. I’ve competed in quite few contests including New Englands Strongest Man, and the Extreme Strongman Showdown.

JF: You also compete in powerlifting, although as I hear it, you should stick to strongman. Anyway, you can’t knock a guy for trying. What organizations have you competed in and do you still compete?

Murph: I lift mostly APF because my schedule is so crazy and there are great meets in the New England area run by guys like Russ Barlowe in Maine. My last meet was the 2004 APF Pine Tree State Open where I was in the 308 class. I’d say I’m the winner of that meet in my class, but there was no other 308’s there, so that would be kind of dishonest. I did go to compete against whoever showed up, except no one did in my class, so fuck it, I won. My next meet is in September.

JF: What are your thoughts on the following statements:

You can’t run with the sled?

Murph: Why, who says this crap anyway? Of course you can run with the sled. We’ve heard that it alters your running mechanics but in my opinion you can definitely improve your first four steps in the sprint.

Plyos should only be done by those who can squat double bodyweight?

Murph: This is just ridiculous in my opinion. Five year olds do plyos when they play leapfrog don’t they?

Baseball players should not bench press?

Murph: I’m not the biggest fan of athlete’s bench pressing unless they have a test, like the combine, and why is a rep test in the combine anyway? I think dumb bell benches are a better choice for them. I can’t wait to see the response to that one.

JF: While I can see your point here and may even agree, the fact of the matter is most people always want to bench though, especially high school and college kids. Don’t you think that a compromise sometimes has to be made to keep the athletes happy?

Murph: We don’t bench press unless you’re a powerlifter. We stick to dumbbells and it’s never a problem. I prefer to use the overhead press. I just don’t see the risk of injury to reward, it’s just not there for me.

You must always do the most neurologically demanding exercises first in your workout. Meaning you must always do plyos or any kind of speed work before heavy or max effort work?

Murph: Again, why? I know there are a million studies showing this, but at least for me, I know my plyo’s were always faster after I have done something else first. I understand the reasoning behind the statement, but I don’t think it applies to everyone. I don’t think you can transfer power violently fast like that without some sort of warm up. We are primarily a strength gym. We always find that our plyos are better at the end of a workout after our strength work. Doing plyos first negatively effects the strength work and that is our main priority. Everyone who comes here is primarily here to get stronger.

JF: What would you say to some one who is looking to get into the strength and conditioning industry?

Murph: Find a good coach to intern under and keep an open mind to new things. Read everything you can get your hands on, and educate yourself. Another thing that might be the most important thing is stay under the bar yourself! You need to lead by example.

JF: What do you look for in a good strength and conditioning coach? Besides the fact that they look good in spandex.

Murph: Experience making people stronger, and not just someone who was strong when they came in. There is a huge difference in the coach who made a 500lb squatter an 800 lb squatter than the guy who took a 225 squatter and made him 315 squatter. You need to know how to motivate an athlete to strive to be the best, to be able to instill a work ethic in an athlete.

JF: Aside from joining us in The Hostile Takeover, what else does CJ Murphy have going on right now that our readers can look forward to?

Murph: Right now my main focus is on our upcoming expansion. TPS is going to be making a move to a new facility in the near future, and it will be more of the same from us, not a watered down strength and conditioning factory like you see so much of sprouting up now. I’ll keep you posted on the progress. Look forward to our upcoming line of strongman products which includes atlas stones which are a great tool for training athletes. We have logs, stone molds, farmers walk handles, Conan’s’ wheel, Viking press, car deadlifts and any other strongman equipment you can imagine.

JF: What’s the worst training gimmick?

Murph: Functional training. It’s the biggest scam going. Also anything prescribed by ACE.

JF: Without getting too detailed, what are your thoughts on nutrition?

Murph: We give clients a meal plan broken down meal by meal. We give most people a general guideline on how to eat, it’s nothing magical. The most important thing is to make sure that your protein needs are met consistently throughout the day every three to four hours.

JF: I know you are addicted to slugging down iced coffees on a regular basis. Any thoughts on the negative effects of caffeine on insulin sensitivity?

Murph: You can’t argue with science and I would definitely agree with that. But if I don’t have my iced coffee nothing gets done.

JF: As many people know, music is my life’s obsession so I can’t finish without asking you for some recommendations of songs to train to.

Murph: Brujeria. I’m stuck on that one lately. Jimmy turned me on to that one.

JF: I heard he also turned you on in other ways but we won’t go into that. Any hip hop playing in TPS or what?

Murph: Oh yeah, we play old school hip hop.

JF: What’s old school hip hop to you?

Murph: NWA. Can’t go wrong there.

JF: My man. What else, any Public Enemy?

Murph: Hell yeah.

JF: Anyone who listens to PE is okay in my book. I knew there was a reason I liked you. It’s been a pleasure Murph, thanks for your time and we look forward to hearing more from you in the future.

Murph: Thanks for the interview Jay, and let’s get you a neck harness so you don’t have to flex your traps all the time.

JF: Sounds like a plan and I’ll definitely look into it. Anyone interested in learning more about CJ Murphy and his training techniques can check out Thanks again, Murph.