Sunday, August 29, 2010

Non-contact injuries, normal or just common?

Hamstring tears, quad strains, pulled groins, torn ACLs (non-contact that is), low back pain, shoulder impingment. These are all common injuries that we hear of all of the time. The question is, are non-contact injuries (NCIs) normal or are they just common?

First of all I think we need to distinguish the differences between what does normal mean, and what does common mean. Do they not really mean the same thing?

Normal: In Medical terms, free from injury and illness

Common: of frequent occurrence, a regular event

So back to our original question. Are non-contact injuries normal or just common? I think the above definitions will now help us to appreciate that they NCIs are NOT normal, they are just common.

So, WHY are NCIs so common in the first place. There can be many factors that contribute to NCIs. Such as the following:

- Poor Posture
- Poor nutritional habits
- Poor sleep
- Poor recovery
- Poor stress management
- Poor Strength and Conditioning levels
- A poorly designed strength and conditioning program that is only contributing to the occurrence of a NCI

Now that we have established that NCIs are abnormal, and also they contributing factors, how do we as strength coaches and therapists go about reducing their common occurrence?

The following is what I would find neccessary to help bulletproof an athlete from injury:

1. Assessment - FMS (I know its really a screen), postural assessment, injury history, lifestyle questions (stress, sleep, job, etc)

2. Design the most effective and efficent strength and conditioning program to bulletproof the athlete in question from any future injuries, while at the same time getting him/her bigger, faster, stronger

3. Re-assess!

So Remember non-contact injuries are NOT normal, they are just common. So with a proper strength and conditioning program, good nutrition, good stress management, and proper recovery, their commonility will be reduced greatly.

Stay Strong,


Monday, August 23, 2010

Does your low back round when you squat?

We have seen this discussed before many times among strength coaches. "I have an athlete who rounds his low back at the bottom of the squat. What do you think it is?"

Many theories have been put forward. Hip mobility, core stability, or lateral hamstring tightness/stiffness. All of these could most definitely be contributing factors. But something I have never seen discussed on the matter is the thoracic spine, and cervical spine.

I started to think any the thoracic spine and cervical spine being limiting factors to the squat (and also the deadlift for that matter) when talking to Charlie Weingroff at Providence last June. Charlie was talking about the importance of "packing the neck" when squatting and deadlifting.

Charlie went on to say that looking up, and putting the cervical spine into hyperextension is not a good idea. Then it clicked for me. Think about it. Your spine is just one long line. We separate it into the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar regions for convenience, but what happens at one region of the spine will without question effect other regions of the spine.

So say we have an athlete with a slightly hyperextended cervical region, and he has a stiff t-spine, as he squats down he will run out of his neutral spine position at a higher point during the descent, then if we had another athlete who had packed he cervical region, and had a mobile t-spine.

The athlete with the stiff t-spine will now look to get more motion from another area to reach the depth required. This is where the rounding of the low back at the bottom position will be seen.

Another thing to look for with athletes who struggle with this is the hand position on the bar during a back squat. If they have trouble holding the bar, chances are the t-spine is so stiff that it is limiting their amount of external rotation at the humerus. These are the athletes that get 1's on the shoulder mobility of the FMS. If you switch the athlete to a front squat, they should be able to descend slightly further as external rotation will not be a limiting factor.

So when someone asks for your opinion on why does the low back round when squatting, ask the coach, "Do you get your guys to tuck their chin in?". "What is their shoulder mobility on the FMS like?". And "What is their ALSR Like"?.

I think if you get an athlete who scores 3 on the ALSR, but 1 on and SM, and they have a hard time getting into position when deadlifting or round their low back at the bottom of the squat, consider looking at the thoracic, and cervical regions of the spine.

I am not saying that the cervical and thoracic spine are the only cause of the low back rounding when squatting and even when deadlifting, but I think that it is something else to consider.

Stay Strong,

Thursday, August 19, 2010

An Interview with John Sharkey

1. John thank for your time. Could you give my readers your background, and how you came to be a Neuromuscular therapist?

First I want to say thank you Robbie for inviting me to talk with you and share these stories and ideas with you and your readers.

Neuromuscular Therapy has, for me, been an amazing life long journey starting, long before I was cognatively aware of it, in my childhood. I was dazzeled by the “Brothers of Iron” Joe and Ben Weider and I remember purchasing my first bullworker in the early seventies long before Ireland had its first gym, which incendently I joined with my brother. I think it was 1978 in Mary Street, Dublin. This period and the preceeding twenty years would prove to be such an exciting time for bodywork and exercise science in general and it still is. I gained my first degree in Exercise Physiology in 1984 and had been practicing massage since the late seventies. I met Leon Chaitow in the mid eighties and have been standing on his shoulders ever since. As a young boy I was enthralled reading and learning about the life of the man who I believe was the father of health related fitness Bernarr McFadden. Combining knowledge of exercise science, anatomy and the wisdom of such great pioneers, some whom I have been blessed to work and/or study with, such as Stanley Leif, Boris Chaitow, Professor Siegfried Mense, Ida P. Rolf, Professor Kevin Sykes, Leon Chaitow, Moshe Feldenkrais, Professor David Goodman Simons, and others too many to mention just now, led to the establishment of Europes first formal qualification in European Neuromuscular Therapy. Of course now we have a Higher Diploma in Neuromuscular Therapy combining both European and American versions. We also have the newly established Masters Degree in Neuromuscular Therapy which is an exciting development and the fruition of many years work.

2. What, in your opinion, is the biggest problem you see among clinicians in dealing with pain and rehabilitation?

I want to answer this question not so much by focusing on any problem but three areas that are either completely neglected or are poorly understood. They are understanding the nature, diagnosis and treatment of the Myofascial Trigger Point, second the role of Fascia in human movement and pain. Then there is a third area which is the role of skin in human movement and pain.

Many therapists that I meet around the world have never considered the Myofgascial Trigger Point as the primary cause of a patient’s pain. Of course if a person has a pain in their tooth they will see a dentist. When that person has had root canal treatment and even gone as far as to have the tooth extracted and they are still living with the pain they are lost to know who to turn to. We are working hard to enlighten as many therapists of various stripes to consider Myofascial Trigger Point involvement and to either refer to a Neuromuscular Therapist or to get appropriate training to offer specific inttervention. I feel the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapy has played its role in educating more and more therapists regarding the Myofascial Trigger Point. In Ireland I have no doubt that Neuromuscular Therapists are the leading experts in treating and uderstanding Myofascial Trigger Points.

At present I am completing a Post Graduate Medical Degree in Human Anatomy in Dundee University in Scotland. My primary interest is with the connective tissue of fascia.

Fascia is fascinating as it is a continuous tensional network throughout the human body. I have written my thoughts on what I call, “MyoTensegrity” the one muscle hypothesis (1992) because we truly only have one muscle in the human body, enclosed into several hundred fascial wrappings.

Understanding this ubiquitous tissue can solve the issue of pain experienced in one body part but as a consequence of fascial tension and fibrosis in a local or more distant body part. As Ida P. Rlof used to say, “Where you think it is it ain’t”. From a medical viewpoint, medical students are thought that the fascia is a rarther fatty packing material that needs to be removed by scrapping in order to “see” the muscle. This idea makes me cringe. There are no medical textbooks showing the true image of human muscles. All or most of the fascia has been painstakingly cleared away. Most of what we know about muscle fibers and their role in creating movement needs to be addressed.

To give an example, in human bodies muscles seldom ever transmit their entire force directly via tendons into the skeleton as we are encouraged to believe. They in fact distribute a considerable amount of their tensional forces or stiffness onto the fascia. This way they not only stiffen the respective joint but several joints at some distance away. This concept blows a hole in the entire discussion concerning which muscle is responsible for what movement. This is such a misconception and has major influence on how you treat a patient or provide therapeutic physical activities. That said, I find the entire topic really exciting and I do love trying to win over new converts.

3. How did you come about setting up the NTC?

It just happened over time. I began by offering workshops and masterclasses and then through demand I established the first Irish fitness instructors course in Exercise and Health Studies, that was in 1985 and the rest is history. To be honest NTC is now very different with a formal structure involving committees, advisory boards, policies and procedures within five schools and more about the world class tutors who deliver the various programmes and the great staff in general, all highly motivated and interested in the learner. I am very proud that I started the ball in motion. I have to mention our graduates who over the years have gained a reputation for excellence which others have kindly given them credit for. Our graduates are generally very loyal and that is a reflection of their educational experience at the NTC.

4. There seems to be a big discussion in the field at the moment since Thomas Myers talk at Providence as to what is the most optimal way to increase an athletes flexibility. I know that you personally have some strong opinions with regards to static stretching. Could you give us your thoughts on this subject?

We really need a long time to discuss this topic. I did not hear Tom’s presentation in Providence but I am very familiar with his work. The main point I would make is that there is little room for the classic static type stretching that we see so many athletes and non athletes participate in. I geuss I have been beating this drum now for more than twenty nine years at at times it felt like no-one was really paying attentiuon.

I wrote the following in my book (The Concise Book of Neuromuscular Therapy a trigger point manual) concerning stretching;

My understanding of myotactic reflexes and the role of fascia has led me to avoid recommending static and ballistic stretching in most situations of physical activity over the past twenty-eight years. As static poses are an integral part of some sports, such as the start of a run or swim, we should not rule out static poses. However, I refer to this as static dynamic.

Static stretching may have a therapeutic benefit when used correctly by a knowledgeable and well-trained therapist. Static stretching can cause architectural damage and may interfere with the structural integrity of the connective tissue. Great care is needed to ensure it is the correct intervention to take. The notion that people should be trying to increase range of motion every time they stretch is not one to be supported. The rationale of holding muscles under a static stretch is one that I believe can contribute to increased muscle tension, reduced potential neuromuscular efficiency and a reduction in relative strength.

In the pursuit of wishing to elongate muscle fibres, I propose that the additional lengthening of nerve tissue could, in turn, result in temporary reduced reaction times while the elongation of muscle fibres disassociates the actin /myosin proteins thereby reducing potential strength and neuromuscular efficiency.

Inappropriate static stretching, I propose, has the potential to pull the walls of individual sarcomeres in opposite directions. This could disassociate the contractile proteins, in many sarcomeres, from each other. In effect this could possibly reduce force output while causing distortion to the sarcomeres in series. Over time, repeated static stretching could lead to increased, or at least maintained, hypertonicity in the muscle. This hypertension becomes self-perpetuating as excessive tension retards both blood and nerve tissues. This retardation leads to tissue hypoxia and additional tissue tension. This in turn may be the foundation for the development of trigger point activity. Many people feel the need to stop and statically stretch their muscles only minutes into their warm-up. Remember warm-up activities should be low in intensity and focused on gradually raising body temperature from the core to the extremities.

The word “Stretching” means so many different things to so many people. We need to take care to ensure we are all speaking the same language so that a good debate can take place. Of course we should all be ready to change our views based on new information or research. That is the nature of science as it proves nothing but rather provides evidence based on current investigations using specific modus operandi.

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

Many people without a doubt have had major influences on me professionaly and in my private life not least my mother. Cleary though, it is of course Leon Chaitow who has been so supportive to me over so many years. We have not and do not always agree, but that is one of Leon’s great strengths. He involves himself and surrounds himself with people of varying opinions and provides them with a platform to be heard. We have great conversations when we teach together and go out for a meal, which is no easy event as Leon is strictly a non meat eater. Leon has shared his wealth of knowledge openly with me over the years. Of course due to Leon I am on the editorial board of the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapy and traveling to so many conferences with leon has introduced me to many of our leading researchers and pioneers. I appreciate the privelaged position that has afforded me and I pay tribute to Leon at all my presentations. Of course my close relationship with David Simons is one I am very grateful for. David wrote the forward to my book. Sadly David passed away this April and his family invited me to speak on behalf of his professional friends and colleagues at his funeral. I felt very privelaged and of course I was honoured to do so.

Leon Chaitow and David Simons

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

Some aspects of these books do not always square with what I think but they are grteat reads

- Physical Therapy Rehabilitation: Effective Management of Musculoskeletal Injury-Andrew Wilson
- Nutrition: University of California at Berkely-Wellness newsletter and Annual
-Business: Annual Built to Last; Successful Habits of Visionary Companies-James Collins and Jerry Pottas. Harper Collins Canada
-Random: The War on Pain. Scot Fishman M.D. Newleaf Publishers

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

I travel to a number of conventions worldwide each year. Some I present at which offers me the unique chance to speak to the other presenters and often times go for a bite to eat in the evening so we can talk “shop”. I did that recently at the International Fascia Conference where I presented. I went for a few beers with (amounst others over the four days) Philip Beach and we had a great chat. You should look out for Philips new book which will be on sale soon.

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

Of course the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies is a must. We are bridging the gap between the bodywork therapist and the exercise specialist with the JBMT. I also encourage people to visit my friend Dr Stepen Levein at

9. Could you give my readers a basic summary of what your methodology on rehabilitation is (eg. Assessment, treatment protocols)?

I think we all offer similar time to the majority of our patients and so we need shot gun techniques. A full body kinetic chain assessment is vital. Identify and treat those muscles and fascia that are short and spastic first using release techniques, GTO response and so on. Then treat the Inhibited, often tight and not necessarily lengthened muscles and fascia with spindle approaches. Avoid treating more than five muscle in any one session. Wait for automonic responses, pay attention to and work with the breath and remember change requires energy. Remember Soft tissue releases. The autonomic nervous system discharges. Discharge implies a whole body, multi systems release and this requires your patient to have the energy to cope with such changes. Work slowly, speed is the enemy.

Once we provide a neuromuscular and fascial balance to the body we can then introduce corrective physical activity. Remember the forces used to move the upper limbs must be generated in the lower limbs and pass through the lumo-pelvic-hip complex. For the most part avoid classical “sit-ups”, certainly reduce the number of repititions of this exercise which has little or no functional relationship to human movement and sets up bad neuromuscular engrams. The body is the hero. We heal nothing. The body has a potential to heal. Movement is life.
I steal any good technique or concept from other educators or therapies as that is what my work is all about, giving and sharing. In Neuromuscular Therapy we consider Nutrition, Fascia, Muscle, Nervous system involvement, Myofascial Trigger Points, stress (repetive and emotional).

I hope that helps

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

Follow your dreams not an ego. Be honest and true and really be concerned while demonstrating true empathy. Be prepared to listen and recognise that change is difficult. Other opinions are great and should be welcome. If we all thought the same way and held just one opinion life would be truly boring. Be patient. You are the new pioneers and you all have something new to offer.

RB: John, 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?

JK: Thank you Robbie, it was good chating to you. I feel you are setting a great example to others and I want to say well done and keep up the great work you are doing. All our courses and workshops are on the NTC web site, actually we have a new site coming on line very soon if people care to take a look. I wish evryone success !! john

Thursday, August 12, 2010

An Interview with Carl Valle

1. Carl thank for your time. Could you give my readers your background, and how you came to be involved with Strength and Conditioning?

Simple. After watching the 1992 Olympics and seeing Mike Barroman sacrifice his soul for the gold medal in the 200m Breaststroke was a kick in the pants for me. I watched his training on NBC and read his weekly training regiment in Swimming World and that was my first exposure to “monk mode.” The clips of him doing medicine ball training were eye opening and in the back of my magazines were an advertisement for Nemo medicine balls by some company called M-F Perform Better. I got a 3kg medicine ball and the Medicine Ball Guide as a companion and that was were it all began. In addition, I went to the University of South Florida and was exposed to elite track and field. At that time several Olympic medallists, including some golds, were working out. Their training was unbelievable and a lot of fans were watching guys train like freaks. I wasn’t a great track athlete but this stuff excited me as it was both thrilling and thought provoking. Everyone that watches Linford Christie do single leg hops over those hurdles on youtube needs to understand that it’s still possible to challenge athletes safely to new levels. Some of the guys were squatting 240 kilos below parallel without a wide stance.

During the time I was taking Kinesiology and Anatomy and Physiology and working part time as an Intern with the Tampa Bay Rays Strength and Conditioning department. Baseball was good to me, as the professional and minor leagues had some of the best people to learn from. I was just a kid, young and clueless to the reality of professional sports. After a couple of years there I read everything in the office and watched every VHS tape I could get my hands on. Baseball is a unique sport based on extreme skill and talents where guys can throw 98 miles per hour with no training at all. I quickly realized the limitations of Strength and Conditioning on team sports, especially with Baseball. At most advanced levels strenght and conditioning is to sustain excellence, not build freaks. I did my final practicum with the USF Football team for Doug Elias and learned the bread and butter of team S and C. I think collece is about building athletes and the professional ranks is keeping guys healthy. I don’t consider myself a strength and conditioning coach, I must give that title to those coaching teams at colleges or professional ranks.

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

The fact that the profession of coaching people is called an industry instead of a profession clues us into what is going on with fitness in general. The term Industry reeks of a factory like smell, and leads us to cookie cutter training. Now we are doing more bootcamps and larger group training as ways boost margins and that is fine, just to compare it to coaches and personal trainers that are doing something more skilled and tailored. Many things are compromised when business systems override training systems and that’s why I have been vocal in my blogs. Being transparent about the money trail is the right path. Private facilities are never transparent to young athletes, parents, and sport coaches to what they compromised in training, and if they did you would see an uproar. People are afraid to speak up because of the fear of losing valuable networking and career chances and that is frightening. At the end of the day we are training people, and we must protect their goals and bodies.

On the bright side more information is being shared at a blazing pace, allowing new coaches to be exposed to so many great people. People that are doing a great job are sharing more and more readily applicable information.

3. You work with a lot of track athletes. Could you give my readers some insight into what it is like to coach this population?

Coaching track is the most humbling, challenging, and rewarding gift one can receive. It’s life’s lessons wrapped into 9 months or more of hard work and dedication. Talent is vital, and we will see great athletes beat out better trained athletes all the time but at the end you still have to do both to have great performances.

There is no hiding in track and field. People get better over time or they don’t. For me it’s important about career development because getting people better one year doesn’t mean year two and three are going to be much better. It’s not easy trying to maximize performance when guile and strategy is removed. Even the laziest track athlete train hard because you can get beat if you are not on you’re A game. The great thing about track is the eventual PR. Not everyone can win the gold but improving is so satisfying, and I think Track and Field is such a great sport.

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

Honestly? I would have to say a mix between my grandfather and my dad. Genetically I can’t escape my DNA, but the impact of my grandfather raising me is slowly coming around. My dad was sort of a Tony Stark (Iron Man reference) in his day, but my grandfather was Marcus Aurelius in movie Gladiator or better yet Abbe Faria from the Count of Monte Cristo. My grandfather was a master teacher and talented engineer. After his passing I couldn’t believe the patents and other achievements he was awarded for his hard work, and that inspired me to tackle some very real problems with training and technology. What I learned from my grandfather most of all was that he was a fighter in life, and never complained with all of the challenges he encountered. When I see myself opening up a medical instrument for capturing HRV or labouring on programming a script to measure elasticity I see a healthy combination of both my genetics (father’s genes) and environment (my Grandfather guiding me).

Lastly I would say Bret Contreras has made the biggest impact with me trying to create a better direction with what I believe. He was the only person I found to be receptive to criticism. Being open like that is the more rare quality in this field. Reviewing products and training ideas isn’t going to win popularity contests, but he has found a way to keep things fair and balanced. After talking to Bret in person I decided to work on finding ways to help those that are doing an amazing job in their speciality and share what they are doing with the rest of the world. Nothing is wrong with healthy competition in the information market and I feel we will see some big changes in 2011. I predict with strong conviction that we will see some turnover in beliefs and leading experts.

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

I can’t say all-time favorite but I can say what I am reading this week as a hint to all the great books out there. I love books as I enjoy the human side of one person leading us into their mind for just a momement.

- Strength Training: Styrka Snabbhet by Jan Melen is a great read and has taken a few years to translate. My conclusions are similar with much of it and different at the same time, but the depth of training was fascinating. He will have a fully translated manual later this fall for English speaking coaches. One example is that Olympic lifts and elastic responses in sport are rarely refined. Mike Causer explained to me at a few years ago the start of the clean is about loading the stretch reflexes from the feet to the head and it was beyond my abilities to utilize. Remember I have 18 minutes 2-3 times a week on average for the Olympic lifts and must use other components of training to teach and reinforce movement. Many track and field events have relationships between each other but so does lifting with compound exercises. This is why I don’t favor much isolation work unless it’s necessary.

- Physical Therapy Rehabilitation: Complex Injuries of the Foot and Ankle in Sport, An Issue of Foot and Ankle Clinic by David Porter MD is a great change of pace. I ordered another copy just recently and this text makes you understand the limits on much of our current assessment methods. Many coaches realize that I like using Sports Medicine expertise to evaluate foot function. An interesting correlation to observe is eccentric strength with the NBA and NFL population right now and I need to reexamine that factor with my training.

- Nutrition: I wish more credit can be given to some good people in this field but most of the books in nutrition are hype, specifically on fat loss. I have made mistakes of reading the books that have a popular nutritionist sharing their interpretation of the research, so be careful of stuff from your local bookstore. A lot of good information is out there in book format, but I think Alan Aragon’s Research Review is the best because each month he force feeds to keep you updated.

- Business: I am definitely no business guru and will not spend much time in the Business and Marketing sections of Barnes and Nobles book store . I find Paul Graham’s Hackers and Painters to be a fine read but The Innovators Dilema is what is important to me as of now. Many fitness businesses online are based on Sustainable Technology, meaning ideas or solutions that are based on existing technology. Destructive technology that is innovative is dangerous to that existing market and you can see where I am leading to this. My guess is that analytics based on granual data in the pro and college ranks will be the new market, and this may hurt some existing training concepts that have become popular but have not been proven to work. Time will tell what happens, but I am betting that the pendulum will start to slow down in the corrective exercise craze and swing back to traditional methods.

- Random: I encourage people to read books outside their comfort zone and I suggest Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid . It’s not light reading and if you are stranded on a desert island you will have your work cut out for you. Edward Tufte’s book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information is a great read or in this case scan, and anyone involved in education should have it as a resource.

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

Podcasts- has about a dozen superior interviews with some of the finest coaches in the world. I also like to listen to some other podcasts on technology that will bore people reading this.

Website- Since you are near the UK I believe, I think UK Athletics is a great resource and seems to be on the cutting edge of both information and interaction to the needs of coaches. The UK doesn’t get credit for doing some great things with their athletes and coaching education and it’s time to start moving away from “Eastern Block Methodics” and give credit to all international people.

Blog- I love David Oliver’s blog. It’s a breath of fresh air to follow a professional athlete with such grace and professionalism. What I like is that the blog is not a coach or trainer, but the people we are trying to help get better. Often we read blogs of coaches to see what they are up to, but I would love to read more blogs with athletes talking about their experiences.

Products- I am a big fan of good products and tools. I like Eleiko bars and plates. I Think EliteFTS has some great equipment as well. The TRX is a little overpriced, but it has value. I like the ithlete iPhone app and receiver from One great product that I find outstanding is Ultra Peptide 2.0 from , simply put the best tasting product is from that company. If you work with teams or clients I think everyone should get a gorilla pod and flip camera to add another pair of eyes to their training.

7. 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?

I think the bridge is a good model to understand the separate roles coaches and therapists possess, and the bridge is communication and hard work.. The gap comes from lack of responsible boundaries and ego. Sometimes people are simply lazy or overworked. I am thrilled that coaches are reading about injuries. I am excited that therapists are attending seminars lead by coaches. My fear though is that without clear roles defined in some structure, people might forget their primary roles. Some great therapists are also great coaches, and I think we will see a hybrid of soft tissue therapists and strength coaches in the future. Currently we are seeing a coach tackle too much of the sports medicine side and not doing their job. I have nothing against trying to improve dysfunction but when guys are not in good shape how much is the going to help compared to ensuring the primary needs are taken care of? Guys have dysfunction a lot because people are not strong, lean, conditioned, supple, and skilled. I know there are lot of needs that can help athletes, but priorities seem to be skewed to fixing stuff that has yet to show any evidence of transfer. Even if one is successful fixing the “digestive system” , the loss is that athletes can’t pass basic measures of being ready for the season, such as condititioning field tests. So my belief is that coaches are juggling too many hats when I see olympic lifts with knee dominant motions, sloppy core training, and bodyweight activation methods instead teaching people to move better. If we keep things in a proper hierarchy we may see less dysfunction. You can work the lateral sling of the ankle, but when the hamstrings and glutes look like someone was on a fasting diet for too long we need to get back to reality. Coaching the basics over and over again is not cool and not easy. Getting people to lift heavy, safely, and with great technique is not easy. My rule of thumb is if people can’t do the basics with suffient loads all the corrective work will not hold up. Combine brute strength and great movement and things work out. Eliminate the raw power and all the ankle mobility and breathing techniques will be futile. Again most coaches have a finite amount of time so I am interested in how people put it all together, not what they blog about. If the clean’s look like John Travolta doing splits for Saturday Night Fever, I don’t care about dynamic joint mobility of the left pinky. People assume that a coach is doing the basics really well when they talk about fascia and endocrine responses to bench press, but if you stop by and see the athletes you may be surprised what you see. My goals are to do the key ingredients correctly, and that’s why I stop by and watch guys doing it will great technique.

PT is not perfect but don’t bash therapists and think they are in the dark. I use a lot of sports medicine experts because I don’t like taking risks with what is going on, as I get a lot of athletes coming in with tones of injuries. My heart sinks with the job some of the therapists take on because it’s an enormous burden. The pressures these people have is astronomical because they are often responsible for what good or bad happens. I think communication and networking with the right people is key.

8. If you could pick one exercise, and one exercise only, what would it be and why?
So we are not saying favorite but most valuable? I would sprint or run. Sounds Biased doesn’t it? Remember I am most likely to choose an exercise that would make physiological adaptations to my body after a year. You can see that (morphological adaptations) with the olympic lifts and running at various speeds. We were designed by evolution or intelligent design to run with beauty. Running is the most natural form of exercise you can do. I know that the Turkish Get Up is popular but I can’t take the easy way and blindly jump on the band wagon. The TGU has a lot of great qualites, but it’s not the bread and butter for most strength and conditioning programs for performance and health. The TGU should not be the meat and potatoes of one’s training as it doesn’t sufficiently stimulate the body, especially the legs. They are very coordinative in nature and the EMG studies show some great core benefits but I don’t find them to be a real bang for your buck exercise. The TGU is like the Lady Finger’s of fireworks, lots of bangs but very little effects. When an athlete has a great offseason or when someone gets into really good shape do you hear whispers of “that guy has gained some serious mass, is ripped, and is so explosive and agile….he must be on the TGUs!” It has value but if you had to choose between one or the other, running or olympic style lifting would be my choices. The Turkish Get Up is very far down on my totem pole and I am not afraid to say that. I will say that the TGU is one of the best connective exercises you can do to teach how to use the body and it should be an option for people trying to help the general public be more complete. I love if the average joe can do a kettlebell exercise, but for me, my body is my tool of choice.

So I encourage coaches and trainers to prepare athletes to run in some form, as it’s sharing a gift and ensuring people have that option is more demanding but definitely worth it. I am not saying I want Rugby athletes to run marathons, but most sports involve some sort of running. My concerns are people will talk about pattern overload or now lack of variable vectors in training but those are biased against running. The body is designed to handle tasks that repeat. The heart and lungs will beat and expire over and over again and we need to focus on supporting function more than removing what we don’t think is functional. When I watch a Red Sox game I don’t’ see Jonathan Papalbon spiderman crawl out to the mound or (insert cross-training flavor of the week). Many times a person going for a jog is a great way to clear the mind. Even if one goes for a long walk I am happy about that even if it’s not “hardcore.” I think we can benefit from just moving on our feet and doing what Mother Nature wants.

Sprinting - Great Bang for your Buck

9. 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 did an interview with Bret Contreras sharing what I believed about assessments and order and training and I felt I could do a better job explaining some of the great concepts on assessment and training from the many innovative individuals I have learned from over the years.

Assessments-To be fair the FMS has helped the profession by creating a standarized screen to quickly evaluate some functions of the body. Many coaches are now doing assessments because of Gray Cook, and I have listened to him speak many times, bought his book to see some of his great work. We owe Gray a lot of credit but let’s evolve the process. Athletic appraisal can be traced back to Galen inspecting what Gladiators will be traded, how the Military in WW2 evaluated their fitness programs, and what technology is doing with HRV and data mining. So I use a Black Box approach with data collection and contract outside professionals to collectively come to conclusions. Those conclusions are enlightening and completely surpass the status quo but it isn’t practical in privatized facilities.

Alan Degenero has the most important presentation in Strength and Conditioning over the last few years, but was it in vain? I think it was, so I decided to take matters into my own hands with consulting a business intelligence person to extract the right data in the profession of sports performance and sports medicine to see what is working. My process is not earth shattering by any means. Based on the current goals and resources. come up with a plan that is practical and sound and work hard doing so. It’s amazing when you add in work hard and thus long periodization is more of a factor. In a simple outline I do the following.

Outsource Experts- I am a team player period and will always will be a team player. I like working with others and believe that a group is more than an individual. I use sports medicine to evaluate the athlete when I can, or resort to an athletic appraisal evaluation. If you are going to assess do it right and do it as comprehensive as possible. Sometimes a phone call to the right coach is priceless.

Plan the Season- I follow conventional practices of sport science from the USATF coaching education . Nothing new here. I am very vanilla because the compositions of all of the variables is the periodization, not just the sets and reps of the lifts or distances, volumes, or intensities of the runs.

Record Data- This year I may use an assistant to record as much data as possible. I think as coaches we need to start doing more work in this area as an excel spreadsheet of sets and reps of weight training is not the standard level of data collection of other high level professions. It’s not easy and I need to be consistent here.

Analyze the Results and refine-At the end of each year look back and reflect on what you did and see what you can do better. In team sport settings things are more stable, but in the private setting you have a lot of market factors that will change. I prefer the team setting.

Next year the loop repeats, and how you do it better is always the same “Theatre Production.” The story is the same and the actors are likely to be of the same abilities or even same people, but you got to do it a little bit better. Maybe the score is refined and more dramatic. Maybe the lighting is more effective. Maybe the director makes things flow better. Sometimes the lead actress will lose her voice and you will have to improvise. It’s all about refinement.

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

Be patient and focus on results first. I realize that the private sector requires a lot of marketing and other needs that make it harder to do a good job but do your best. If you are looking to be a rock star and perform live at seminars and conferences early you need to check your ego and start travelling to see people that are doing a good job. In this profession you have ten years of learning, ten years of earning (making good money), and then ten years of burning (making great money). Those that rush the first two phases level off and tend to lose momentum after ten years and their work never lasts. I am happy Supertraining will keep selling after both Mel and Yuri are gone and the book you write needs to be a masterpiece for people to read in 20 and 30 years. Great work is never smothered, and work that is not great never lasts and is on sale in one year on Amazon, hence the turnover of trends. Trends come back like fashions for the next generation because most people try to make the same mistakes twice. What did the unstable surface and swiss ball craze teach us? Currently the TRX phenomenon is about being suspended, but I think it’s a suspension of belief. It has value but how much impact will it have to a sport such as Football? How can we measure the impact? I know the equipment is of use and I use it but it’s only a small part of a complete program. Again I use many of the things I am critical of but the hype needs to calm down. If our profession is to evolve we need to act like scientists and teachers, not cult followers. I am guilty of following the wrong people without enough scepticism as information is hard to filter. A good rule of thumb is that you want to train an athlete like a close friend, you are not going try to hurt or short-change their goals, and if you can do that, that is enough for me.

RB: Carl , 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?

CV: I have no real projects that anyone can benefit from as I don’t even blog right now. I will revamp my blog in the next season to be far more evidence based while not losing any humor and include more video, and skypecast interviews with sport science. If people like some of the 300 posts I will share, I also have a Mediacast Subcription that many coaches have given positive reviews. I review some of the hot topics and share what the best are doing with narrated slides and sometimes video.

I also do some light programming and IT solutions if people are looking to take their workouts to the next level. Many coaches are more interested in doing a better job with what they have, so they are looking to technology to help them. Often it’s what you get your athletes to do than how much you know. People can contact me via email at

Friday, August 6, 2010

Why I do what I do!

This is why I love strength and conditioning. Here is a message that one of my athletes sent me last week:

Hey Rob, I was just thinking there how this season is going so well for me and how much I am enjoying playing and I think a lot of the cause is definitely down to the strength training I am doing wih you. So thanks a million for all your time. I really appreciate it. There is no way I would I have been able for the physicality of last Sundays match (A big final that this athlete was involved in) without you.

This is why I do what I do! I love this field.

Stay Strong,