Saturday, April 3, 2010

An Interview with Chris Shah

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

I was always involved in some competitive sport especially middle distance track. Funny considering I’m not a fan of long distance anymore. I started out like many training my friend’s not knowing at the time I had no principles or methodology guiding me.

About 6 years ago I sustained a reoccurring injury to my left pectoral. I had severe sharp pain that would appear out of the blue.

I bounced around like ping-pong from so-called expert to expert with no relieve in sight. I had every image and evaluation done to me. Or so I thought. After 6 months on the shelf and many alternative methods of healing with little relief in sight. I vowed I would find a solution to my problem so I hit the library.

Immediately I fell in love with learning about the human body and performance training. I soon realized how truly na├»ve I was in training and had no one to blame for my injury but myself. I started to get all the industry standard certifications (I’m originally a computer science major) and started again to train friends. The friends I trained encouraged me to actually become a trainer. So I took the plunge and started out as an independent trainer bouncing around different studios for a couple of years. I finally found a long time home with my current gym for the past three years. We recently changed our name and I became a partner/owner.

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

The EGO which builds a self imposed prison stumping their growth and in the process short changing their clients and athletes. Most coaches/trainers are on the independent hype which leaves them content with having their head in the sand. . I love Coach Boyle’s term “Fitness Ostridge” Here is a video blog describing how to spot one.

I wish that the habit of interdependence would be valued more. I much rather know I’m wrong than think I’m right. If I know I’m wrong I can remedy the issue. I have been wrong many times and always enjoy learning why and how I was wrong. The only way to know such things is through the habit of egoless interdependence.

3. What is it like to own and run your own facility?

It is both exciting and scary at the same time. The exciting part is that any thought I have I can immediately play with; it’s my own personal fitness playground. The scary part is that the success of the gym is your responsibility and the weight on your shoulders can strain you if you don’t have a clear path of where you are going. I really underestimated how important the business side of things are. My business related books will shortly share the same amount of book shelf as training and personal development. It is very important to sit aside time to work on your business. You can be the best trainer in the world but at the end of the day you are running a business for profit. The buck stops with both my partner and I. The atmosphere and clients/athletes attitude to each other and to new clients/athletes is a direct reflection of our attitudes. People usually go to three places in a day 1) home 2) work and 3) another place. I want my gym to be the third place where they feel like their home and forget about the world for one hour.

4. You train a lot of MMA fighters. Described what it is like to train this population?

I will go over generalities as this question in its self could be an entire interview. It is a challenge inherent with certain politics and egotistical mind sets. The guys that train their skill work at my gym have completely bought in to my training. It is like recess working with these guys. I also train BJJ when I have the time so I’m able to speak and translate fighting langue to my training program. The challenge lies with fighters who perform their skill work at other gyms but cross train their strength and conditioning work with me. I have to compete with their skill coaches trying to wear my hat. Generally hard or suffering training is equated with effective training.

Also the concept of “durability” or injury reduction is as foreign a concept as trigonometry to most fighters. I have a video blog on this very issue.
The skill training is inherently ripe for injuries as most of them always have some type of acute trauma based injury that simply by the nature of the sport cannot be avoided. My number one job is to keep them healthy so they can actually compete.
The potential for overtraining is very high for MMA athletes most will train x2 a day in different skill disciplines anywhere from 4-6 days a week. Add on top of that 2-3 days of strength and conditioning work with me. The cumulative fatigue must constantly be monitored. ( I have a system in place) If I have a very high-NSD work or complex training programmed for the day but the athlete for example has bruised up legs from sparring and generally fatigued I have to pull back accordingly. I want NSD work performed at or near full capacity without fatigue. Although their may be certain situations where I purposely overreach them then pull back for a super compensation effect.

Just as the mix martial artists must be diversified in his or her skill set I concurrently want all his or her strength and conditioning qualities to rise. Certain qualities will be stressed closer to fight time like the so-called power endurance quality. I see many MMA strength coaches who use a linear periodization model neglecting certain qualities for up to 4 weeks. This makes as much sense as neglecting a certain skill aspect for 4 weeks or one of your kids.

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

I consider Mike Boyle my mentor. I spent 4 days with him this past year and was enriched by the experience both as a coach and person. He has been responsible for a few paradigm shifts with my training. With every single thing I program or coach I always think how would I justify this to mike? What is the thought process?

Mike Boyle

Gray cook has also had a huge influence for taking complex issues like durability and quality of movement and simplifying them. I had a short discussion with Gray about fighting and he laid a great one liner on me regarding the FMS “1’s give your opponent more submissions and 3’s make you slippery in MMA/BJJ”

Gray Cook

6. 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 bridge?

We both want the same thing reduction of pain and increased durability. Most of the time the PT and S&C are talking about the same thing and want similar goals but using different langue. Essentially we are getting lost in translation. It comes down to communication and explaining each others principles, methodologies and programming goals. We must form an interdependent team effort. For example, I’m in contact with two local PT clinics and when discussing a client /athlete there is a common script I follow. Depending on who generated the referral it can be modified.

What are the red flags/ injury mechanisms/ movements to be avoided? What are the deficits and limitations? What I need from you is… What do you need from me? Then we can of course get into specifics of the programming. One of the 2 PT’s uses the FMS/SFMA so we are able to talk in terms of ASLR and extension breakout which really accelerates the process.

7. What are you all-time favourite books in the following areas?

Strength Training:
The science and practice of strength training. -Siff (A great bird’s eye view) Advances in functional training- Boyle (constant reference). The Charlie Francis training system. (It changed the way I view and program my athletes. A must read!)

Physical Therapy Rehabilitation: Diagnosis and treatment of movement impairment syndromes - Sahrmann. SFMA Selective functional movement assessment workshop course book. Ultimate back fitness and performance- McGill. Gray cook DVD series

Nutrition: A grappler’s guide to sports nutrition. John Berardi (don’t let the name fool you, many of the principles apply to most people)

Business: The E-myth revisited – Gerber ( A huge Ah-ha moment)
Thriving on Chaos – Tom Peters (Taking it to the next level)
Raving Fans. – Blanchard ( my recent paradigm shift!)

Random: An introduction to the study of experimental medicine -Claude Bernard.
(A great read for anyone who loves logical objective thinking.)

How to win friends and influence people- Dale Carnegie ( The world would be a better place If most of us read it in high school)

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

I have been to NSCA symposiums, Perform Better, FMS workshop and Mike Boyle’s mentorship. In June I’m spending 4 days with Alwyn and Rachel Cosgrove. As well as making the trip from the West coast to Rode Island for PB in June. I also consider visiting great coaches like Tim Vagen and Dewey Nielson unaccredited continuing education.

What resources that are out there, would you recommend to young up and coming coaches (Pod casts, Websites, Bogs, and Products)?, I feel like I’m stealing money from mike. Strength and conditioning, sports rehab,, Mike Boyle DVD library, Gray cook DVD library, Eric cressey, Mike Robertson, Cosgrove blogs.

9. If you could chose one exercise, and one exercise only, what would it be and why?

The question I love to hate. In the past it has been different exercises and I’m sure in the future it might change as well. I will have to go with a sled push or sprint depending on the population. I use the sled with my rehab (re-conditioning clients) that have knee issues that cannot yet tolerate ROM knee/hip dominant exercises. With certain arm positions we can also morph the push into a core exercise as well.

With my athletes I use the sled for both NSD power work, conditioning as well as heavy MSD strength work. There is a great deal of benefit with very little risk!

Sled Pushes

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)?

My driving paradigm is diversification of the athletes/clients strength and conditioning portfolio. We must both use all the appropriate tools, allocate resources and investments to all the needed physical industries and companies to yield a low-risk high-reward portfolio. If you are the fill in the blank “tool” guy you have a high-risk, low-reward program portfolio in my mind.

Assessment: (determines what tools, how much time and resources we put in certain physical industries and companies) Depending on client/athlete. FMS/SFMA and a mix of mis… from Sahrmann, Cressey, Robertson, McGill and Boyle. First thing I want to know is their red flags and/or specific injury mechanisms to be avoided?

Determine the person’s goals, needs and how much time we have.
Program phases of training based on many variables(training age, starting point, objective, and time together)

With general fitness personal training clients very little periodization is involved its good old progressive increases in either volume and or intensity with progressions of exercises and movements.

With my athletes it’s more of a non-linear periodization model.
I keep detailed records of everything I do with clients/athletes and constantly evaluate them almost to a fault.

The general working template is as follows in order. Tissue quality, stretch, activation, specific corrective work, Mobility/stability joint by joint work, dynamic movement, power complex (Rapid response, speed drill, pylometric work and mball throws), Then explosive lift (o-lift), Strength and or continued power work. I program core work every single day in between the main lifts in a triset. Then on to energy system work or full body complexes depending on specific populations and goals. Lastly we spend time on regeneration (ice plunge for fighters/athletes) and soft tissue and/or stretching for general population.

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

First and foremost learn how to make people smile and enjoy your company. After all these years I have come to the conclusion that I’m a self-esteem enhancement specialist first and a performance enhancement specialist second. Read a personal development book for every training book. My business went through the roof and continues to grow because I invest in my personal development and people skills.

Write every single thought in your head down on paper or use a voice recorder. Continue with all the continuing education that you posed in the above questions. Email the authors to get an update on what they have changed since writing the work. Continue to visit and mastermind with as many coaches as you can. Coach as much as you possibly can. Allot of times what we know from learning and how we apply it in real life works out seamlessly and other times we scratch our heads. The old saying that it looks good on paper but not in real life can be modified to looks good on paper but not good with john or Mary. Find out why it doesn’t look good with John or Mary. Is it because of their current functional state? Is it because of your current coaching state/level? Is it because it’s simply not meant for them? Is it because it’s the wrong time in their programming/progressions? Find out the why and how of that gap and you will grow tremendously!

Chris, thank you so much for your time. Where can my readers find out more about you and any projects that you may have coming up?

I have a new blog at
Video blog .
My gym website which will have a major update soon

1 comment:

  1. Cheers Robbie (and Chris) for another good interview.
    It seems that so many good coaches are utilizing Sled Pushes. It is something I have very little experience with, so am going to have to investigate further!
    Robbie are you in the US now?
    Keep the interviews coming!