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


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  2. Excellent interview! I only recently got introduced to Carl Valle via Bret Contreras' website. He is quickly becoming one of my favourite people to read, due to his analytical approach and his constant questioning of standards.

    I know he has already forced me to re-evaluate why I do certain things, and has changed the way I think about learning, in particular how I read things.

    Keep up the good work Robbie.

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