Friday, February 26, 2010

An Interview with Bret Contreras

1. Bret, thank for your time. Could you give my readers your background and inform them as to how you came to be a strength and conditioning coach?

Thanks for the interview Robbie! I'm 33 years old. I've lived in Arizona my entire life. I've been lifting weights for 18 years. I have a CSCS certificate from NSCA and a master's degree from ASU. I leased a training studio for two years which I named Lifts. I invented a fitness machine called the Skorcher Pro. I've done a ton of EMG experiments. I wrote an eBook called Advanced Techniques in Glutei Maximi Strengthening. Finally, I've authored several articles on TMuscle and StrengthCoach.

Not to be nit-picky, but I'm really not a strength coach. A lot of individuals in the field (I'm guilty of this) refer to themselves as strength coaches since they have CSCS certifications but in my opinion one is only a strength coach if he or she has been hired to train an entire sports team as the strength & conditioning coach. I believe that this distinction pays respect to the strength coaches out there. I would then of course be called a personal trainer.

2. What, in your opinion, are some of the biggest problems you see within the fitness industry today?

The typical male lifter uses crappy form, doesn't work his legs and hips hard enough, doesn't squat deep enough (assuming he does squats to begin with), does too much horizontal pushing in relation to horizontal pulling, doesn't do enough posterior chain work, doesn't pay nearly enough attention to mobility and stability, and doesn't have the juevos to perform the most difficult exercises with ample intensiveness.

The typical female lifter is afraid of getting bulky, sticks to cardio for leg work rather than muscle sculpting and fat burning strength exercises, and is afraid of getting stronger.
The typical personal trainer doesn't want to learn anything new and doesn't know enough to realize how little they know in regards to movement. The typical physical therapist doesn't know enough about strength training. The typical strength coach doesn't know enough about corrective exercise.

In general people suffer from plain ignorance. They will invest hours upon hours in the gym but won't invest any time reading and learning new information. People get complacent and fear getting out of their comfort zone. People also suck at being "scientists." Getting good results from training is largely a result of using the scientific method; in other words learning how to find your optimal training program based on manipulating and fluctuating variables such as exercise selection, volume, intensity, frequency, density, and intensiveness.

One should aspire to reach a point where they know so much about the various issues and topics in strength & conditioning that they form their own philosophy. This takes superior knowledge and critical thinking. I may disagree with many of the top experts on certain issues, but they have earned the right to take their stance and I have earned the right to take my stance. However, on nearly any given topic, I know enough to argue in favor or against both sides.
Personally, I try to not be too set in my ways. I'm very open-minded to the fact that optimal sport-specific training could be markedly different in 20 years than it is today. We really don't know that much, and a lot of what we do is simply because it's always been done and seems to work. For instance, perhaps we'll learn that Post-Activation Potentiation is the best training strategy for the masses and we'll alternate heavy strength exercises with plyometric/sprint exercises (some already do this). Perhaps we'll realize that we don't do enough "power endurance" training or simply higher rep training with each repetition performed as explosively as possible. Perchance we'll learn that specialized "core training" isn't as important as we thought. Maybe supine hip extension exercises lead to increases in sprinting speed over standing hip extension exercises. There will undoubtedly be new methods, tools, and exercises that are popular down the road that have yet to be conceptualized.

3. Could you give my readers some insight into your typical day?

Right now I have a pretty ideal life. Almost a year ago I took a gamble. I had a training studio and I was really big into glute training. Most of my clients kept urging me to write a book about my methods. Knowing that I'd never be able to write a book while training ten hours per day, I opted to not renew my lease, close up shop, and move my equipment back to my garage. I cut down on my personal training hours. This freed up time to allow me to focus on my writing. I must say that I'm very proud of how much progress I've made in the past year and how far the popularity of some of my methods has spread.

Right now I wake up, check my email, Twitter, TMuscle, StrengthCoach, Elitefts, and Facebook. This usually provides me around 2 hours of reading. Then I make my phone calls and run my errands for an hour or so. After this I train my clients for 2-3 hours. Next, I participate in forum discussions, film Youtube videos, listen to podcasts, and/or work on new articles, interviews, blogs, or eBooks. At this point it's time for a quick nap. After I wake up, I work out, head over to my buddy's house to eat and watch a little bit of television, then return to my house to work on my writing and reading into the wee hours of the morning. I have no boss, no lease, no timelines, ultimate flexibility, and very little stress. This lifestyle could become addicting but I am very goal-oriented so I'm getting ready to take things up a couple of notches. I'm either going to get my PhD in Kinesiology/Biomechanics or open up another strength training facility.

Bret Busy at Work!!

I've been fortunate to make good money off my glute eBook in the past six months to afford me this lifestyle. I know several individuals who wrote eBooks and didn't make any money from them. My glute eBook became popular because I am innovative, I put a ton of hard work and research into it, I came out with brand new exercises and data, and the glutes are of primary importance to a lot of individuals in the fitness field. The book was the culmination of years of learning and experience. The best part about the past year is that I have had the time to read, learn, interact with brilliant minds on the StrengthCoach forums, and test out new ideas. So my rate of learning is very high right now, and I'm able to spend a lot of time on social networking.

4. Could you briefly explain why exercises such as hip lifts (thrusts), reverse hypers, back extensions, etc, are so important to have in a program in your opinion? How do these exercises differ from squats and deadlifts?

Certainly! I believe that standing axial hip extension exercises such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, and good mornings form the cornerstone of a sound program, but their directional load vectors are vertical in relation to the standing human body. Supine, prone, or quadruped anteroposterior hip extension exercises like hip thrusts, reverse hypers, and back extensions have horizontal load vectors in relation to the standing human body and may very well be the "missing link" between running and the weight room. Although any exercise that acts on the major muscles of the hips and thighs can improve both jumping and sprinting performance, I believe that axial hip extension exercises may be more specific to jumping while anteroposterior hip extension exercises may be more specific to running.

However, if you want to get good at anteroposterior hip extension exercises, you can't just toss them into your routine every once in a while. You have to keep plugging away at them week in, week out. Just make sure you pay close attention to your lumbar curvature during these exercises and prevent the low back from rounding or overextending.

Hip Thrusts - The Missing Link?

5. Who has had the biggest influence on you as a coach?

I like thinkers, not "rehashers." Anyone can write an article simply reiterating what others have written. But going out on a limb, creating new theories, and blazing new trails takes guts. So does going against the grain, standing up for what you believe in, and not jumping on the latest bandwagon. For these reasons, I like guys who speak/spoke their minds like Mel Siff, Mike Boyle, Mark Verstegen, Christian Thibaudeau, Gray Cook, Alwyn Cosgrove, Eric Cressey, Mike Robertson, Kelly Baggett, Dave Tate, Jim Wendler, Dan John, Louie Simmons, Charlie Francis, Pavel Tsatsouline, James Smith, and Martin Rooney.

That said, I don't believe that there are enough "students" of strength training. I've learned just as much from reading online in the past decade than I could at a major university. Granted, a lot of the stuff online is crap, but some of it is priceless. We have a great online fitness community that I'm very proud to be a part of. I thank the many fitness enthusiasts out there who put out free information on the web for others to learn from.

For many years I've been saving my favorite articles, excerpts, eBooks, and blogs to a file folder on my computer desktop. I also print and store them in giant 3-ring binders. I'll even save a forum post if I like it! I currently have an entire bookshelf worth of books as well as 4 different binders full of articles written by the following individuals, all of who have contributed to my knowledge base:

Juan Carlos Santana, Jason Ferruggia, Chad Waterbury, Joe DeFranco, Nick Tumminello, Patrick Ward, Keats Snideman, Mark Young, Daniel Martinez, Mathew Perryman, Zach Even-Esh, Tony Gentilcore, Clay Hyght, Kevin Neeld, Jeremy Frisch, Lee Taft, Brad Nuttal, Chris Korfist, Ross Enamait, Lyle McDonald, Alan Aragon, John Berardi, Mike Young, Erik Minor, Erik Korem, Vern Gambetta, Peter Weyland, Barry Ross, Carl Valle, Yuri Verhoshansky, Vladimir Zatsiorsky, Michael Yessis, Tudor Bompa, Shirley Sahrmann, Michael Clark, Stuart McGill, Thomas Myers, Bill Hartman, Vladimir Janda, Tom Venuto, John Parillo, John Paul Catanzaro, John Romaniello, Paul Check, Fred Hatfield, Charles Poliquin, Charles Staley, Bill Starr, Stuart McRobert, Ian King, Mark Rippletoe, Bryan Haycock, Casey Butt, Bryan Johnston, Craig Ballantyne, Mike Mentzer, Ken Leistner, Brooks Kubik, Randall Strossen, John McKallum, JV Askem, Paul Kelso, Arthur Jones, Bill Phillips, Vince Gironda, Anthony Ditillo, Tommy Kono.
Now, I've named 84 people in this response but I could easily list 300 individuals. It's important to read the classics in strength training to gain appreciation and perspective but it's also critical that one stays current, as the internet allows us to spread methodology very quickly.

6. What do you do for your continuing education?

The Perform Better Seminars are top-notch in terms of speakers. I haven't been to any of the NSCA seminars but I'd like to in the future. The problem with seminars is that I don't learn much from them. When I was a high school mathematics teacher, I learned that it is very important to place students in the appropriate subject to allow for optimal learning. A lot of the presenters are very intelligent but they dumb things down for the average attendee. Personally I don't believe in dumbing things down too much, as it frustrates the advanced attendees. If the lower level attendees can't keep up, they can stay after for questions or send emails for clarification.

7. What resources that are out there that you would recommend to young up and coming coaches (Podcasts, Websites, Blogs, Products)?

Here are what I believe to be the best sources of training information out there:

8. If you could pick one exercise, and one exercise only, what would it be and why?

I always like this question, as my answer evolves over time. Ten years ago I would have told you the deadlift. Five years ago I would have told you the squat. Last year I would have told you the hip thrust. But if I could only do one lift it would have to be a total-body exercise that transfers through the core and into the ground in order to strengthen as many muscles as possible and be as functional as possible. At first thought I would have to go with the clean & jerk. Really, the lift is sort of a combination of a deadlift, shrug, upright row, front squat, and split jerk. This exercise would probably work more muscle than any other lift, and it has a heavy explosive component to it. But really the clean & jerk is three distinct movements, so choosing it is unfair (sort of like choosing the Turkish get up). So if we go by distinct movements perhaps I'd go with the power snatch. A close second would be the sled push.


9. Could you give my readers a basic summary of what your methodology on training is (eg. how do you assess, design, and periodize programs)?

I like the Functional Movement Screen. I believe in fixing dysfunction and balancing strength levels. I believe in the joint by joint approach. I believe in training movements, muscles, directions, planes, and energy systems. I believe in cybernetic periodization, auto-regulation, and deloading. I believe in tailoring routines specifically to the individual's goals. No two clients of mine ever follow the same exact program. I'm a fan of foam rolling, stretching, mobility drills, and activation work. I'm fascinated with specific training for hypertrophy, power, speed, agility, strength, and conditioning. I provide a high-energy atmosphere. While I'm a fan of the basics, I incorporate a ton of variety. For strength work, I'd rather prescribe 2 sets of 5 different exercises than 5 sets of 2 different exercises. Although I like bilateral and unilateral training, I lean more toward bilateral training. I always listen to my clients and athletes and ask for tons of feedback.

10. Last question, what advice would you give to young coaches like myself just getting into the field?

Be patient. Pay your dues. Read, train hard, train others, and experiment. I read and trained like a maniac for 12 years before I wrote my first article. Think about the entire fitness industry. The more we educate each other, the higher quality of trainers we'll produce, and the better results we'll deliver to our clients. This is how industries build themselves up. Ask yourself, "What am I doing for the fitness industry?" Speak highly of your fellow trainers and coaches. Get a blog, get on Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter. They're free! Start networking. Go to seminars, intern, and most of all, start thinking! Learn Physics and Anatomy.

RB: Bret , thank you so much for your time. Where can my readers find out more about you, and do you have any projects coming up in the near future?

BC: Thank you for the interview! I should have a really good article series coming out on TMuscle soon called "Inside the Muscles." I'm also working on a new eBook for sport specific-training. I'm all over the internet. I can be found on the StrengthCoach forums, I have a blog, a Youtube page, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and my glute eBook can be found here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Whats Wrong With This?

I have been ask by a friend to give my opinion on the following Strength Program that I have witnessed lately. This program is currently being performed by athletes with a training age of zero in the facility that I work out of. This is the Program:

Day 1:
Bench Press 4x8-12
Clean & Jerk 4x8-12
Box Jumps 4x16 (Jump up & Down! Hikes !!!!!!!!!)
DB Push Press 4x8-12
RFE Split Squat Jumps 4x8-12

Day 2:
DeadLift 4x8-12
DB Snatch 4x8-12
Squats 4x8x12
DB Swings 4x8-12

They have been doing this exact same program now for over 2 months. I know, I know!

So whats wrong with this program?

First off, I do not claim to know it all. I will never know it all. Knowing this drives me to be a better coach everyday. This is why everyday I read, listen to podcasts, watch dvds and webinars, get on websites like and sports rehab expert, and blogs like I have listed to the right hand side of this website. This is why I travel around the world to intern with the Top Strength and Conditioning coaches. To try and make myself a better coach, so I can in turn help build better athletes.

Secondly I definitely do not want to come across as an asshole, or being negative. It is just so frustrating for me to see coaches who spend no time continuing to educate themselves to be better coaches making money (and sometimes a lot) off very poorly designed programs. As Peter Griffin would say “It grinds my gear”!

I just want to help people understand Strength and Conditioning better, so that they can then have a more critical understanding of it. This will allow them to have a better judgement of what is good, and what is not good.

People don’t question those who they see as experts. You should always question! Question your doctor. Question your dentist. Question the physio. Question the Strength and Conditioning coach. Ask them what was the last book they read about their profession? What was the last DVD watched about their profession? What was the last seminar they attended? What is the next seminar that they are attending? Where do they read their research? What podcasts do they listen too? You would be surprised as to how some of these so-called experts will answer!

I actually personally know the coach who “designed” this program. He is a very nice guy, but he doesn’t get it. He doesn’t read everyday. He doesn’t listen to podcasts. He doesn’t watch DVDs and webinars. He doesn’t....... well you get the point.

Ok Robbie. You still have told us what’s actually wrong with his program?

Just to let you all know again, I train my athletes in the same facility that this program was designed for, so I know what was at his disposal when design this program.
Also I would like to add that my program design is far from perfect. I do not claim to have the ulimate program here right before you. What I do have though is a very thought out process, and a reason for everything that I do! Still I do realize that there is many ways to skin a cat. But some ways I feel are just better then others.

Ok, here goes!

1. No Warm Up Section:

There is none of the following in this program:
- Soft tissue work (Foam Rolling), for tissue quality
- Stretching (Tissue length)
- No activation exercises for muscles that are usually dormant (glutes, scapula stabilizers)
- No Mobility work to any joints that need it (ankle, hips, t-spine)
- No Dynamic Warm Up for getting the nervous system revved up
- No Plyos for lower body elasticity, and injury reduction, and again to get the nervous system revved up
- No Med Ball work for upper body power
- Speed work. This one he could not do, just not enough space.

No Soft Tissue Work

No Stretching

No Activation Work

No Mobility Work!

No Plyos

No medball work

2. Order of exercises:

Ask any of the top strength and conditioning guru’s, and all will tell you that explosive exercises like the clean, snatch, DB snatch, always, always are the first exercises to be perform in a workout.


Because they are the most demanding on your central nervous system (CNS). This means you need to be FRESH to perform them, NOT fatigued.

3. Reps? :

Again ask any top expert how many reps would you do for explosive exercises like cleans, DB snatches, snatches, box jumps, RFE Split Squat Jumps, and they will all tell that they should not be done for any more than 5-6 reps. Anything over this is conditioning, NOT power development.

Know if conditioning is your goal, then maybe I wouldn’t be so critical. But I still would not do any Olympic lifts (Cleans, snatches, etc) for conditioning. They are far too complex to do for high reps. I would prefer things like, body weight circuits, medball circuits, and barbell complexes.

I know that some crossfit people swear by their high rep cleans, and thats fine by me, but most of the crossfit guys that I see doing high rep Olympic lifts have at least a few training years behind them. I am talking about some guys who have never picked up a weight before in their life!

4. No Vertical or Horizontal Pulling? :

There is absolutely no upper back work in this program. Their is 3 pushing exercises, bench press, DB push press, and the jerk (which is really more of a push press) of the clean, all done for 4x8-12.

(4x12) x 3 = (48) x3 = 144reps.

144 reps of pushing and absolutely NO PULLING EXERCISES? 48 horizontal pushing, and 96 vertical pushing.

Do you think this could lead to some muscular imbalances down the road? Mmmmm..........

And we all know that muscular imbalances can be one of the causes of??

That’s right. INJURY!

No Horizontal Pulling (Inverted Rows)

Again No Horizontal Pulling (3 PT DB Row)

5. No Single Leg Work:

No Split Squats, reverse lunges (with beginners I would not do any forward lunges), single squats, SLDL’s. Apart from the RFE Split Squat jumps, there is absolutely no single leg work.

This is criminal.

Single work is essential, especially for a field, court player.

No Single Leg Work

No Single Leg Work

6. Too Much Volume:

These players are training on the pitch 2 times per week, and also have a game on the weekends.

The volume in this program is overkill on the central nervous system (CNS). 4x12 on big compound exercises like deadlifts, squats, bench press, clean & jerk (?). Then you also have DB snatches, RFE Split Squat Jumps for 4x12, and Box Jumps (where the athletes jump down off the box backwards? Again, I know!) for 4x16!

Think quality NOT quantity

7. Periodization? :

The athletes have been following this exact program for over two months now. This of course completely neglects the fundamentals of periodization for strength training.

You must understand that after a certain number of exposures to the same workout your body will start to adjust to the workload and your progress will stagnate (Stop). Charles Poliquin, a world renowned strength and conditioning coach from Canada reckons that after 6 exposures to the same workload your body will start to stagnate.

Now if you are a beginner to strength training, you could get away with staying on the same program for more than 6 exposures because you are a beginner! But eventually your progress will stop if you do not change at least one of the following in your workout:

- Reps
- Exercises
- Rest Intervals
- Load
- Tempo

Poliquin also reckons that the body adjusts to rep ranges first, before any of the other variables.

When designing a program you need to have a system. You need to know where you want you athletes in 12-16 weeks at least. You can’t just make it up as you go along, and you certainly cannot just use the same program for a whole year!

I like to use either an undulating periodization model, or a concurrent model.

Undulating Periodization Model:
Phase 1 (Weeks 1-4): 3x10
Phase 2 (Weeks 5-8): 4x5
Phase 3 (Weeks 9-12): 3x8
Phase 4 (Weeks 13-16): 5x3

Concurrent Model:
Every phase will have the following:
Main Lift: 1-5 reps
Submaximal lifts: 5-12 reps
Repetition lifts: 12+

Example Concurrent Workout:
Lower Body:
A1: Deadlift 6x3
A2: Mobility

B1: BB RFE Split Squat 3x10
B2: Core

C1: Glute Ham Raise 3x12
C2: Rotary Core

Upper Body:

A1: BB Floor Press 6x3
A2: Mobility

B1: DB Row – Neutral Grip 4x8
B2: DB Chest Press – Neutral Grip 3x8

C1: Face Pulls 3x15
C2: Push Ups 3x15

8. Technique:

Not good. Mike Boyle says something along the lines of, a coach should be able to tell if you are a good coach or a bad coach, just by how good your athletes technique is.

I coach my athletes to be able to coach the lifts I get them to perform. I find that this helps my athletes to have at the very least good technique in the weight room.

9. Confusing Density (Volume) for Intensity:

This really bugs me. The guys all tell me, “It’s so intense”. To them if they are destroyed by the end of the session, this must mean it was intense!

Any fool can make an athlete work hard, sweat, or get sick. It is the coach who can make an athlete better that will get results.

Now listen closely to the following:

Intensity in Strength Training is judged by THE WEIGHT ON THE BAR!


8x3 is far more intense then 3x8 why?

3 reps is over 90% of your 1RM (1 rep max). Were as 8 reps is only 80% of your 1RM.

So what do think is going to be more intense on the body. A heavy load, or a light load.

10. Progressions? :

Where are the progressions? You need progressions. You just can’t get guys who have never lifted before (properly anyway) to start to deadlifts from the floor, squatting, Cleans from the ground. 8 out 10 guys will all have some sort of mobility, stability (or both), restrictions that prevents them from performing these exercises with good technique. This is why you need progressions.

Eoin Lacey, a Strength Coach here in Dublin said to me once, “ you have to earn the right to squat, deadlift, and Bench. By this he meant you need to serve your time with the proper progressions before you get to start shipping more impressive loads on the big lifts!

Now this by no why means that you should not lift some heavy weight, it just means you need to find a better and safer way to load yourself.

Example Progressions:

These are just examples don’t read into them too much.

Deadlift Progression:

Phase 1: Pull-Throughs
Phase 2: Rack Pulls – Bar just above knee level
Phase 3: Rack Pulls – Bar at mid-shin
Phase 4: Deadlift from the floor

Squat Progression:

For squat progression, what I usually do is, I have my guys/gals work on their squat pattern in the warm up, and during rest periods in the first 2-3 phases, and then we will start to load a squat up in phase 3-4. I have them all do loaded single leg work until they start squatting.

Phase 1: DB Spit Squat
Phase 2: DB RFE Split Squat
Phase 3: BB RFE Split Squat
Phase 4: Front Squat

Split Squat Progression:

Phase 1: DB Spit Squat
Phase 2: DB RFE Split Squat
Phase 3: BB RFE Split Squat
Phase 4: BB RFE Split Squat (more load/or volume)

Walking lunge Progression:

Phase 1: DB Reverse Lunge
Phase 2: DB Forward Lunge
Phase 3: DB Walking Lunge
Phase 4: BB Walking Lunge

Reverse Lunge Progressions

Phase 1: DB Reverse Lunge
Phase 2: DB Reverse Lunge off low step
Phase 3: BB Reverse Lunge
Phase 4: BB Reverse Lunge off low Step

Single Leg Squat Progression:

Phase 1: DB Spit Squat
Phase 2: DB RFE Split Squat
Phase 3: Single Leg Squat
Phase 4: Single Leg Squat (more load)

Single Leg Dead Lift (SLDL) Progression:

Phase 1: Reaching SLDL
Phase 2: 1 Arm DB SLDL
Phase 3: 2 Arm DB SLDL
Phase 4: BB SLDL

You get the point

I could go on and on with Progressions, and also Regressions, which are just as important. I have loads of different variations of progressions and regressions, but the point is that it is important to have them.

So to my friend who ask the question “Whats wrong with this”. There is your answer.

Stay Strong,


Thursday, February 18, 2010

An Interview with Kyle Holland

1. Kyle thank for your time. Could you give my readers your background, and how you came to be a strength and conditioning coach?

-Growing up I wanted to be a great football player. I worked out in my basement growing up, but when I became serious about it I started going into the weight room at my high school in the mornings to try to gain an edge. Well….it didn’t work. I had no direction and my training had no rhyme or reason besides that I benched a lot. Then, one day I was watching TV and saw a bit about NFL Combine Training, at which point I discovered that athletes train differently and there were trainers who specialized in sports performance. A few years and majors changes later, I finally figured out that I needed to follow my passions and make this my career and life’s work.

2. What, in your opinion, is the biggest problem you see within the fitness industry today?

-The internet is the biggest problem and, at the same time, the best tool in strength and conditioning. There are a number of great websites and blogs (like allthingsstrength) that have a ton of really useful information out there that are great resources for education about a number of topics within strength and conditioning. It also opens up the lines of communication between elite coaches all over the world, and the rest of us have the benefit of seeing these interactions on different forums. On the other hand…….everyone claims to be a guru and seems to have something to sell. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problems with people making money on the internet, but not if you haven’t actually trained people. If the website claims that the person is world renowned and has some hidden secrets to sell you for X amounts of payments, check their bio before buying. The one page websites with the blinking CLICK NOW TO BUY are a dime a dozen. There are a lot of stupid scams from pretend trainers out there and it makes us look like used car salesmen.

3. Describe to my readers what it is like to work at a facility like MBSC?

-It is very dynamic and challenging because you have to be a chameleon because one minute I’m training an NFL hopeful, then next hour I’m training Mrs. Johnson from down the street because she needs to lose a few pounds. Later that night I get 12 middle school kids coming in to train for the first time. MBSC is the perfect environment for a young coach who wants to improve because you get a chance to coach/personal train a lot of people everyday who are completely different and possess a wide range of issues. It is the ideal place to get Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hours he talks about in his book Outliers. Plus I get to interact and pick the brain of one of the great coaches and brilliant minds in strength and conditioning on a daily basis.

4. Who has had the biggest influence on you as a coach?

-Mike Boyle. He has been a great mentor and has had a huge influence on me as a coach and a person. Chris Doyle, Garnett Vamos, Bryan Dermody, Walter Norton Jr., and Joe Kenn have all influenced me in different ways. I’ve also learned countless things, positive or otherwise, from everyone I’ve ever worked with. My coaching style is a melting pot of many different and unique coaching styles. As a personal trainer, Alwyn Cosgrove has also been a good resource.

5. What are you all-time favourite books in the following areas:

- Strength Training: The Science and Practice of Training – Vladimir Zatsiorsky
Starting Strength – Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore
Functional Training for Sports – Mike Boyle

- Random: How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie
Make the Big Time Where You Are – Frosty Westering
The Fred Factor – Mark Sanborn

* I am a book-a-holic and have spent a bulk of my income at so there are too many books to mention, these are just probably the three best in strength training and personal development that I like. The list could really go on and on.

6. What do you do to for your continuing education (Seminars attended etc)?

-Another benefit of working at MBSC is that I can go to any Perform Better seminar on the bosses’ ticket (thanks Mike!). But honestly, the real education comes when you actually start doing the stuff. I put myself out there a lot doing various internships and that’s what really educated me and taught me how to coach. I almost broke myself financially several times doing internships trying to gain experience and knowledge while coaching. I lived in rat-holes and even out of my truck for a while last summer so I could put myself in places where I could learn and surround myself with like-minded people. Knowledge is power and if you want to see things first hand and learn by doing, you have to put yourself out there and get dirty.

7. What resources that are out there, would you recommend to young up and coming coaches (Podcasts, Websites, Blogs, Products)? (the blog and podcast from strengthcoach is great),,
-There are probably a lot more out there that are great but I honestly don’t spend a ton of time reading the online stuff.

8. Could you give my readers a basic summary of what your methodology on training is (eg. how do you assess, and design, and periodize programs)?

-The functional movement screen is a great tool for assessment and it seems like it’s becoming more widely used. Program design is based around movements that are ground-based, three dimensional, and use multiple joints. As far as my methodology on training and periodization….I feel like we could write a book on this topic. I’ve seen a number of different programs work for so many different athletes, and there are so many methods out there. I really can’t take it when people argue over which is better linear or conjugate, what the Russians do, or isometrics, or Westside. It’s exhausting.

- For youth, training should resemble play.
For middle school – high school, a base of strength should be developed using the basic “big rock” exercises.

With college age athletes you can start mixing in things that are a little more dynamic. When they’ve attained a base level of strength they can add some accommodating resistance with chains and bands. Complexes are great things to add in when an athlete reaches an appropriate training age (plyometrics and jumps super-setted with strength movements, etc.).

The priority with professional athletes is keeping them healthy so their training will be dialled in much more. Single limb exercises, core work, and rehab/prehab/”whatever you call it” work is paramount.

-These approaches sound conservative, but that’s because it is simple. Coaches don’t need to make these things incredibly hard and complicated. Creating a competitive environment where the athletes truly feel like they are getting better is the most important thing. If you prepare your athletes mentally and emotionally by challenging them with their physical training and teaching them how to win by reaching goals, you’ve done your job no matter who you’re working with.

9. If you had to pick one exercise, and one exercise only, what would it be and why?

-In a perfect world where every athlete I worked with was a great lifter that was dedicated, it would be the back squat. That being said, I wouldn’t program it into everyone’s’ program because athletes of different sports have different body types, and not all of them are going to be mechanically fit to back squat, and there are more effective exercises for those athletes. I know the back squat has taken a hit lately, but physically it is a great for developing lower body strength, and mentally it is a great confidence builder. An American football player who is in the fourth quarter of a tight game and it’s fourth and goal on the 1 yard like, is going to have a little bit more “swagger” after enduring a challenging strength and conditioning program where he and his teammates attacked and crushed the goals they set for themselves. That is what you’re strength program should be all about.
If back squat is #1, then the single leg squat would be #1A. The single leg squat is another great strength exercise, and it is also great from an injury prevention standpoint.

10. What are you long term ambitions in this field?

-Become a head strength and conditioning coach in the NFL or a major Division One American Football team. I want to be an effective leader who helps contribute to a team works together and competes to achieve at the highest level.

11. What annoys you?

-Ignorant, close minded people who see everything in black and white and refuse to evolve and learn. The more I coach and the more I learn about this field, the dumber I feel. Sometimes I don’t know if anything I think is right. If you don’t strive to be a life-long learner, than you should quickly change your philosophy on coaching and life. Stay humble and hungry.
-Young strength coaches who think they know everything because they’ve read a few articles and gone to a seminar also piss me off. These people are easy to find because they’ve found the time to write a lot of articles, and you have the expectation that they’re going to be good coaches, but they aren’t.

12. Last question. What advice would you give to other young coaches, like myself getting into the field?

-Volunteer and find a good mentor who will help you grow as a coach and person. Also, get out there and see as many coaches as you can. Take a chance and learn. Remember, you can learn from bad and good. The best lessons I’ve learned so far didn’t cost money, but they did take a lot of work. You’ve done this yourself Robbie, which is why you’re going to do great things.

Kyle, thank you so much for your time. Where can my readers find out more about you?

-I should hopefully have a few articles online somewhere soon so keep an eye out for that if anyone is interested. I can also be reached via email at

-Thanks Robbie, you’re a smart dude and a good friend!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

How To Bench

This is one of my favourite videos on how to bench by Jim "Smithy" Smith of Diesel Crew. Its almost 8 minutes long, but it is worth watching.

How To Bench

This is also an excellent article by Eric Cressey on how to bench correctly. Give it a read.

The Seven Habits of Highly Defective Benchers

If you watch Jim's video, and read Eric's article, you will start to appreciate that the Bench Press is a TOTAL body lift that requires good leg drive, upper back strength, and the ability to keep your shoulder blades packed into the bench.



Wednesday, February 10, 2010

An Interview with Nick Tumminello

Nick Tumminello is a Baltimore Personal Trainer, Strength Coach and National Educator who works with a select group of Physique Competitors, Elite Athletes and Exercise Enthusiasts. Nick also serves as the Strength Coach for Team Ground Control MMA. Check out Coach Nick's Products, Seminar Schedule and Blog HERE

1. Nick thank for your time. Could you give my readers your background, and how you came to be a strength and conditioning coach?

A- I grew up with a mother who was a competitive bobybuider in the 80’s. She looked more like what we would now call a Figure Competitor because womens bodybuilding back them was more about looking like a fit bikini model. As a young kid, I would go to the gym with her and do every exercise she did with whatever weight I could manage. I was like 6yrs old so it wasn’t much weight. But, at that age, I was banging out Squats, dealifts and chin ups like a stud. :-)

As I got older, all I did was play sports after school. I started wrestling in junior league and still do to this day at the age of 30. Although wrestling for me is a part of my now part of myy BJJ and Im also an advid rock climber doing mostly bouldering.

On the training side of things, I stated training people professionaly at the age of 18. I opend my own gym at the age of 21. I have always had a passion for training athletes but welcome all clients levels and fitness goals. As long as you are motivated and disiplined –youre in!
I probably have most verasitile group of clients each day than most strength coaches. I train clinets 5x per week and I will go from training a Pro MMA fighter to a training a Figure Girl to training a pro Horse Jockey to a weekend warrior to training a Grandma with two hip replacments and a frozen shoulder. When you train so many different clients like that, you quickly realize what really works and what doesn't! Because if something works just as well for both an NFL player and his kid sister and his mom and his grandma – it’s a damn good technique that it will certainly work for everyone else!

2. What, in your opinion, is the biggest problem you see within the fitness industry today?

A- It depends on what industry you are talking about? Our industry is really divided into two sections – Fitness Training (Personal Trainers and Group Instructors,etc:) and Performance (Strength Coaches, Speed Coaches,etc;).

In the world of Fitness training, trainers seem to be more concerned with whats cool over learning whats most effctive. I know this because I’m blessed to have the oppurtuity to regularly present at some of te biggest fitness confernces in the US like events from IDEA, ECA and AFPA. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to know the latest exercises and techniques – I personally love learning new exercises. But, if you don’t know how and when to (and when not to) apply these techniqes, they won’t do much good. I think the biggest weakness in the Fitness Training industry is a lack of Program design.

In the world of Sports Performance training, we’ve gone completely opposite of the Fitness industry and gotten so caught up with the science side of things we have forgotten that training should be fun and interesting for our clients! Yes, performance comes first. But, who says you can’t improve performance and have fun while doing it?

A good strength coach thinks technically but acts simply and speaks in a way EVRYONE can understand. Remember this - You can be the smartest coach in the world, bif if you can’t communicate or folks don’t like being around you, you stink as a coach!

My favorire line from the Movie Patch Adams is when Patch asked an intern – “DO you know the differnce between a Docotor and a Scientist?. Patch then says “the differnce is we (Doctors) work with live people”. I think Strength Coaches can all learn from this line and start seeing beyond just the sets, reps, rests, tempos, assessements,etc:

I can go on about this but last thing I’ll say about this subject is that no one in the entire Exercise/Rehab industry wants to admit the we really don’t “know” shit!

For instance:

- Some folks with a hernaited disc have pain, others do not. So, does having a herniated disc cause low back pian? We don’t really know?

- Steady state cardio will make you fat. But, 1000’s of folks loose weight jogging every year. Others don’t change a bit.

- Spinal Fexion is bad for your spine. So, why isnt every wrestler and MMA fighter lying in a hospital bed? Other folks bend over one time and herniate a disc.

- Bench press is bad for your shoulders? Some folks bench for years wi/o issue while others get injured.

- Squats are better than BSS. Or, the other way around. There are strong arguments on both sides. Whoes actually right? Who knows?

- Bodybuilding (isolation) protocols are not good for sports athletes. But many athletes over the years have used Bodybulding priciples and imprpoved their performance on the field.

- Yoga is bad for your back. Tell that to the 1000s of folks who do it regularly and say that they’ve never felt better since starting yoga.

The simple fact is, there is a STRONG argument on both sides of the fence on just about everything. The other fact is that just about every well known trainer/coach has dffering opions, has a different training style and uses different techniques. But we ALL are still gettng great results. So, who’s way is better. Who cares? – were are all getting the job done!

We all need to admit to ourselves that all we really “know” is what works for us in our setting, with our clients using our training style. Everything else is nothing but personal opinion.

I would also check out this Blog post we did a short while back called Don’t be the Kind of Strength Coach Who… -

3. Could you give my readers some insight into your typical day?

A- Into work around 9am and leave around 5-6pm. I workout at 11am Mon,Tues, Thurs and Fri. I workout with my GF Alli Mckee and Mark Simon. Alli is as fit as fit can be so she pushes Mark and both. Mark is a big dude (ex-powerlifter) so he pushes me to lift heavier. It’s a nice dynamic we have!

Wed , I only train clients until noon. The rest of the day and work on articles and products.
My typical day consists of in the –trenches training sessions with anywhere from 1-4 clients ranging from Pro athetes to Granny’s.

During down time, I ask our in-house PT Morgan Johnson more questions then he can stand. J and I do talk shop just about everyday.

4. Who has had the biggest influence on you as a coach?

A- SO many folks to name- My Mom, my very good friend JC Santana, Paul Chek, Mike Boyle, Gary Gray, Vern Gambetta, Martin Rooney, Mike Clarke, All of my Wrestling Coaches, My high scholol Philosophy Teacher, Bruce Lee, Mark Comerford…

5. Sometimes there seems to be a huge gap between some physical therapists and strength and conditioning coaches. How in your opinion can this gap be bridged?

A- we can bridge this gap by 1. Knowing each others role – 2. Respecting each others role and 3. Loosing our ego’s.

6. What are you all-time favourite books in the following areas:

- Strength Training: The Essence of Program Design by JC Santana

- Physical Therapy Rehabilitation: Medical Management of Acute and Chronic Low Back Pain: Pain Research and Clinical Management Series, Volume 13 – By Nikolai Bogduk and Clinical

Neurodynamics: A New System of Neuromusculoskeletal Treatment By Micheal Shacklock

- Nutrition: Nutrient Timining

- Business: A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose By Eckhart Tollle

- Random: The Warrior Within By Bruse Lee

7. What do you do to for your continuing education (Seminars attended etc)?

- I attend the PB Summits attend IDEA Confernces while speaking at them and go to many PT based workshops from NE Seminars

8. What resources that are out there, would you recommend to young up and coming coaches (Podcasts, Websites, Blogs, Products)?

A- Read Blogs from Myself, Eric Cressey, Mike Robertson, Alwyn Cosgrove, Mike Boyle and read the Blogs of the others who’s links are on the previous Blogs. Plus, read,,

9. If you could pick one exercise, and one exercise only, what would it be and why?
A- Wrestling or MMA training. Why? Because it covers every aspect of human movement and athletism.

But, in the traditional gym setting, I would go with what my GF Alli Mckee says – Sprint, Sprint , Sprint! Why?- because it’s fun, intense and gets you in sick shape! Plus, you can do it anytime and anwhere!

10. Could you give my readers a basic summary of what your methodology on training is (eg. how do you assess, and design, and periodize programs)?

This would get way, way too in-depth so I will just say this. I combine what I feel they need with what the goals they want to achieve.

I will say that I use a hybrid linear periodization style with a conjugate feel. I like to use tr-sets and Quad-sets. For instance, I put one heavy, tradtional strength raining exercise at the beginning of each set. Then as active recovery we use less intense mobility, activation, balance, body awareness, sports specific movements depending on what I think will best benefit that specific client. The active recovery is performed in a manner that will not interfer with the primary strength exercise.

I wrote an article about this whch van be found here –

11. Last question, what advice would you give to young coaches, like myself getting into the field?

Read as much as you can, watch as many videos as you can, intern with as many coaches as you can and attend as many confernces as you can. But, don’t try to copy anyone elses stuff. Be yourself and don’t stop doing something that has worked for you just because some supposed expert says it’s no good. Question everything you learn.

I live by this little saying when it comes to learning – “if it doesn’t make common sense and it doesn’t make scientific sense, its nonsense.”

Also, don’t spend too much time on the forums and remember that opinions are likes asses, nothing special because everybody’s got one.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Stop The Madness!

I see this almost everyday that I walk the around the streets of Dublin. “Speed Limpers”, as I once heard Mike Boyle quote Diane Lee. What is a “Speed Limper” you may ask? Well like me, you also see them everyday. You might even be one yourself!

“Speed Limpers” are the people you see out jogging on the streets, in hope that this will help them to lose weight. If only they knew that there is far more superior ways to attain the healthy looking bodies that they want, without ending up with some sort of orthopaedic problem (i.e. knee pain, back pain, etc). Lets stops this Madness!

If you want to change your physique and improve your health, take heed of the following advice:

1. Clean up your nutrition:

You will never, and I mean never, work off a poor diet! Everyones biochemistry is different, so there is no one size fits all nutrition plan. But if I had a gun to my head I would tell everyone:

- Eat more regularly. Try to eat every 2-4 hours. Starving yourself will only lead to your metabolism slowing down, your starvation hormone Leptin will be suppressed, which leads to your body storing fat, NOT losing it, as a protective mechanism. This can also lead to a suppressed immune system.

- Eat more Protein. Try to eat a protein source at every meal (e.g. eggs, chicken, fish, lean grass feed meat, turkey). Stay away from deli meats. They are full of chemicals.

- Eat more Fruit and Vegetables. Pretty self explanatory. Try to eat a fruit or veg at each feeding. They are full of excellent vitamins and minerals.

- Eat more Fat! Thats right, eat more fat. Healthy fats are an important part of your diet. Examples: Olive oil, variety of nuts, avacados. Even the sataruted fat in grass feed meat has been shown to be a healthly fat to have in the diet.

- Decrease the intake of sugars, and other starchy carbs. If you have a sweet tooth, have these foods, straight after some high intensity exercise. Try not to eat these foods late at night as your insulin sensitivity is decreased.

- Drink more water. Stay away from drinks that have calories! Also stay away from 0% calorie drinks, they are still full of chemicals.

With your nutrition just try to eat as much nutrient dense food as possible (lean protein sources, fruit, and veg) . If something has more than 4 ingredients or ingredients that you can’t pronounce, don’t eat it.

Stick to these rules 90% of the time, and you will be doing a lot to improve your health and physique.

2. Start Strength Training:

If you want to change your physique, strength training will be an essential piece of the puzzle. A total body workout is a far superior way to burn calories and to get leaner than to go for a run around the block! Don’t forget that fat burns in muscle.

And for any women out there who are afraid of getting big and bulky, all I will say is “give me a break”. Stop patronising yourself with your pink dumbbells, and lift some real weight. You don’t not have the biochemical make up to get big and bulky. What will happen is you will get leaner, and stronger. Just look at most drug-free female athletes. They all have awesome lean physiques, and they all lift heavy shit!

A properly designed Strength Program, with the proper progressions in place, that covers all aspects of Strength Training from soft tissue quality, mobility, stability, speed, power, strength, and conditioning, will go a hell of a long way to achieving your desired goals.

It amazes me that people have no problem spending money to go see the doctor when they are sick, but won’t spend money on things that would have stopped them from becoming sick in the first place. Things like their nutrition (that was outlined above), or a gym memebership.

Just be clear on one thing. Getting sick is NOT normal.

So Strength Training helps to improve the following:
Body composition (Body Fat%)
Injury Reduction
Immune function
Bone density
Longevity of your body
Self confidence, and self esteem

So do it. And if you don’t want to pay for gym membership, bodyweight exercises will still go a hell of a long way to improving your health and movement. Throw in a kettlebell, and you're laughing.

Better still go the playground, and knock out some bodyweight stuff there (i.e. chin up variations, push up variations, split squats, squat jumps, lunges, etc).

Just get activate!

3. Do intervals instead of Long Slow Distance (LSD) running:

Interval Training has been proving time and time again over the past few years to be far superior to LSD in terms of body fat changes. Why is this?

The experts reckon it is to do with EPOC (Excess Post – Exercise Oxygen Consumption). What EPOC basically means it that after your training session has ended, your metabolism is still elevated and is burning calories even when you have stop exercising!!

You do not get this EPOC effect from LSD, as your metabolism returns to resting levels relatively fast after ceasing exercise.

Examples of intervals (on a bike):
Sprint 30secs/ Rest 60secs x10
Sprint 15secs/ Rest 45secs x10
Sprint 15secs/ Rest 30secs x10
For very fit:
Sprint 15secs/ Rest 15secs x10

You can do just about about style of training as an interval:

Bodyweight Interval x4:
Push Ups 30secs on/ 30secs off
Burpees 30secs on/ 30secs off
Inverted Rows 30ses on/ 30secs off
Sqaut Jumps 30secs on/ 30secs off

Interval training is also far more efficient. You will burn far more calories from 15mins of intervals then 45mins of LSD. Again this is also to do with the EPOC effect.

So there are just some ways to improving your Fat lose efforts, and to improve your health.

Until next time,

Stay Strong,


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

An Interview with Tim Vagen

1. Tim thank for your time. Could you give my readers your background, and how you came to be a strength and conditioning coach?

Sure Robbie. I think it started in HS when I did not like our football team’s strength training program. I re-wrote the program without a clue and the coach liked it. I got injured and took an interest in Athletic Training. Realizing there was no real way I was going to make any money at it, I thought I should become a scientist or go to medical school. I ended up with a degree in Physics and also a degree in Physical Education. The mind of a young lad changes fast. I got an internship with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was hired as their weight coach at the end of the internship. My parents got to see me on national television with a tray full of water cups on the sideline. I made them proud. Since then, I have spent many years working in some great Physical Therapy clinics while working as an SC coach. I’ve had the pleasure of working with a lot of great athletes in the NFL, MLB, the USA Rugby Team, and now I work a lot with some swimming federations from around the world.

2. What, in your opinion, is the biggest problem you see within the fitness industry today?

I think that what I have seen over the years in the industry is about the same. Trainers and coaches are tending to think about what they should do rather than why they should do it. Whether is the use of various tools, or styles, or methods, that’s what they focus on. Right now the trend is high intensity stuff like Crossfit or P90X. Several years ago it was super slow, before that it was body building styles of split routines, and then the Nautilus rage. They are all tools. No one was thinking about what they were trying to accomplish, just how they were going to do it. Good training is actually pretty boring. People want it to be sexy but it’s not.

3. You have your own facility which you run with your wife Tara. Could you give us a summary of what it is like to run and own a business?

It’s great, but it’s really tough. I like to train, but I hate to market. You find out the hard way that without marketing, there is no training. As a trainer, I like to think my skills are pretty good. I’ve worked hard to learn about the body and how it reacts to a variety of stimuli. I also think that I deal with people exceptionally well. That helps, but does not pay the bills. Luckily, Tara is the brains behind the operation. Her 25+ years of business experience in services allows us to run UA like it is a business. Most trainers run their business like it’s a hobby. We study trends, track all our clients, look at where the best market is to find clients, and then put it all together in a plan so that we can continue to grow the business. It never really ends, but we do try to save some time for the family and our relationship. I run the day to day training and she runs, tracks, and pushes me to train more. She’s the brains, I’m the talent. Our facility is run within a hospital setting so it’s a nice fit with my PT background.

4. Who has had the biggest influence on you as a coach?

There have been so many it’s really hard to name one. In the training industry it would have to be Jack LaLanne. He has influenced the way I train and was the father of all of what we do.

5. What are you all-time favourite books in the following areas:

- Strength Training: Functional Training for Sports- Mike Boyle
- Physical Therapy Rehabilitation: Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes- Shirley Sahrmann
- Business: How to Win Friends and Influence People- Dale Carnegie
- Nutrition : Don’t really have a favourite, but I like Susan Kleiner’s work.
- Random: Learned Optimism- Martin Seligman

6. What do you do to for your continuing education (Seminars attended etc)?

I’m a huge fan of Perform Better. The summits are amazing both in the lecture halls and in the hallways. I read nearly an hour a day. This is medical journals, PT journals, training articles, or whatever my brain can soak up. In the Northwest, there doesn’t really seem to be an attraction for seminars, so I have to travel. I’m trying to bring up the level of what we get here by helping out with local NSCA events. I speak a lot, and these are great opportunities for learning as well.

7. What resources that are out there, would you recommend to young up and coming coaches (Podcasts, Websites, Blogs, Products)?

I contribute a lot to and They are both a great resource to anyone in the business. Anything that Anthony Renna puts out (Strengthcoach podcast, or are also great. Of course, I encourage anyone to read my blog I really like Mike Robertson’s stuff as well.

8. Could you give my readers a basic summary of what your methodology on training is (eg. how do you assess, and design, and periodize programs)?

I do use the FMS, but also add to it for my own needs. My programs are designed usually with specific dates in mind and I will tend to use undulating periodization and conjugate methods. I really believe in the whole body as a unit and am huge on the kinetic chain working as a chain and not pieces. Typically, I assess, and then use a period of time to add corrective exercise as a larger part of the program at first, but I don’t lose sight of the goals. Even though we are concentrating on corrections, we work hard. I’m constantly assessing, whether it be movement or how the client feels. This way you can flexible in your programming to get to the achieved result. I do a lot of educating with my clients so they understand the principles of what we are accomplishing rather than the focus on the exercises.

9. If you had to pick one exercise, and one exercise only, what would it be and why?

I like the Kettlebell swing. I think that it adds hip power, core control, and cardio to a whole body exercise. The clients understand with that exercise that there are no such things as body parts.

10. Last question. What advice would you give to other young coaches, like me getting into the field?

Read, listen, and go visit as many trainers or coaches as you can. The visits should be to every type of coach you can. Strength coaches, trainers, physical therapists, yoga instructors, pilates….whatever you can take in. Learn from the martial arts, they teach us a lot about how the body works. Constantly ask, why?

Tim, thank you so much for your time. Where can my readers find out more about you? is my website. See my blog, facebook, or catch me on the web contributing to forums. They can also email me anytime at