Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Technology and Coaching

It's no secret that we live in a technology driven world. We all walk around with little mini-computers in our pocket that ensure we can find the nearest coffee shop or check the thermostats in our homes. Hell, I have a 5-dollar application on my iphone that gives me all of the capabilities of a program that normally costs a thousand bucks and be otherwise unavailable to someone like me (people sans wealth).

Needless to say, technology does a lot of amazing things. It increases the amount of information we have available to us, helps with the speed with which we learn certain things and gives us constant access to things that make us happy, like movies and music.

It's also been a part of strength and conditioning/fitness for a very long time now too. Some of the earliest examples are things like heart rate monitors, GPS watches and pedometers; nowadays we use electronic communication for distance coaching have websites that act as training logs so we don't have to carry pens and notebooks everywhere. But the newest advances are going above and beyond what we would even think is possible.

Simple devices like the Nike+ FuelBand, FitBit and Jawbone can be worn on the wrist and will track all of your activity, the intensity, your calories in vs. calories out and even your sleep rhythms. These aren't products being worn exclusively by elite athletes, these are available to anyone with a couple of hundred extra dollars.

Even beyond that, we have giant performance monitoring systems. Systems like HRV/Ithlete, Zephyr, Edge10 and Kinetic-Athlete essentially plug your athletes into the computer. You can monitor dozens of athletes at once and have every aspect of their training and performance loaded into a computer and analyzed for you. You can get readouts for heart rate (variability and recovery), blood pressure, intensity, acceleration, sport load, core temp, respiration rate even their supplementation, nutrition and schedule. Literally every aspect of training and performance.

While I can really understand the application of products like these and how they can benefit athletes, I still don't like it. What happened to being a coach? What happened to the days of talking to your athletes and finding out how they are feeling, reading their body language and watching how they perform during their practices and training sessions. When I was in training in Boston, I knew all of my clients so well that I could see them walk into the gym each day and know what kind of session they were going to give me. Same with the athletes at BU; there would be days when they come bopping into the gym ready to go and there would be days where they would be dragging their feet. Could I give you an hard number of what their sport load had been that week, or what their heart rate variability was from the day before? Nope, but who truly cares about that? The number of athletes in this world that are so dialed in with their training and lifestyle that truly NEED a system like any of these is pretty low. We aren't even talking about all professional athletes or all Olympic athletes; there's probably only a handful of athletes in specific sports who could truly benefit from all of this knowledge about their bodies. Does a pitcher in baseball need to know? Sure as hell not. Nor does a wide receiver or a figure skater. Maybe cross country skiers, distance runners and cyclists (this includes triatheltes); essentially sports where the demands of the sport are so taxing on your neurological and hormonal systems that you're most often on the edge of over-training. I truthfully can't see too many team sports that I think could seriously benefit from these things.

These products are all being scooped up by pro teams and top ranked Universities, too. If the trend in strength and conditioning continues on the road that it's headed with products like these, then there will eventually be no need for real coaches. Schools will be able to plug athletes into computers and get programs printed out from excel that correlate to all of that data. Some exercise physiology turds will be sitting at computers creating freaks like in Rocky 4. There's always a time and a place for things, it's true, but the time and place for most systems like this is pretty rare.

I'm a coach. It's what I like to do, and I'm pretty good at it, I think. It's an art (not a science) that I've learned from some studying some pretty great coaches; guys like Cressey, Gentilcore, Dan John and Mike Robertson. The secret to success in a training program is not really a secret: train hard, eat more, sleep more, suck less.

Have a great day, go lift some heavy shit!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Truth About Bacon

The medical world has done a pretty good job rubbing Bacons good name in the mud for the last several decades. It's been accused of causing everything from atherosclerosis, cancer and diabetes to the extinction of the Barbary Lion as well as Communism.

This is all, frankly, horseshit. Bacon has made a strong comeback in the last year or two after being labeled a devil for so many years. It's a push thats mainly been fueled by foodie hipsters in snug skinny jeans drinking Pabst and riding fixed-gear bicycles, but we can forgive and forget that part. 

Athletes of all shapes and sizes have been jumping on the bacon-bandwagon as well, calling it things like "meat candy" and including it in every dish and recipe imaginable. Well, what's the truth? Is bacon a killer or should we all be investing in Oscar Meyer?

The truth, like always, lies somewhere comfortably in the middle. Bacon is not intrinsically a "bad" food, it's just another part of the pig (pork belly). Pretty much no natural food source is "bad" for you, it just doesn't work like that. Eggs, beef and milk aren't bad for you either. We've learned quite a bit in the last several years about cholesterol and animal fat and what is actually good and bad for you. The Cliffs Notes version is that animal fat is not bad for you; especially if you're training hard (like you should be). 

The problem with bacon is that it is often processed in such a way that a bunch of shit gets added to it like sugar, sodium phosphates, nitrites and food coloring (shit we don't want to be eating). This bacon is pretty cheap and readily available; really, it's what most people know as "bacon". However, real bacon is even more delicious than Oscar Meyer. You can buy just straight up "pork belly" and pan fry it; it's a little thicker and meatier than normal bacon but it's amazing. You can also spend some dough and buy uncured, nitrite-free bacon. This usually comes thick-cut and looks and feels more like traditional bacon than pork belly. It's often smoked as the curing process, but doesn't contain all the shit that normal grocery store bacon has in it. Both of these options are getting more and more available to general consumers; Trader Joe's even sells a pre-cooked pork belly that is amazing, and normal grocery stores usually carry a few varieties of all-natural uncured bacon.

"some wonderful, magical animal..."
So, why bacon? Well, there's truthfully a pro's and con's list for the consumption of bacon. Let's start


  • It's expensive. The really good stuff gets up towards $10/pound.
  • The suggested "serving" is ridiculous. 2 fucking strips of bacon? If you don't cook/consume the entire package of bacon, I don't know how to talk to you.
  • It's a shitty source of protein
  • It's delicious, obviously. It will make any dish it's combined with more delicious-er.
  • The fat in it will keep you satiated for a long time.
  • You can save the fat from when you cook the bacon and use it to cook other dishes. 
  • The good fats in there are a testosterone-boosting gift from the Gods of Girth.
  • It's pretty calorically dense, so if you're looking for extra kcals it's useful.
There it is folks, the truth about bacon and why it's such a popular food source. I'd say that if you can spare the kcals in your diet, it's very very useful. If you're looking to cut some calories from your diet then it's probably a good place to start since you're not getting much besides fat from it. Take it for what it's worth.

Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Something Simple

As is often the case in strength training, the simplest things that you do will often have the biggest effect on your training. The "nuts and bolts" is what holds it together and makes it better, not all the fancy bells and whistles.

Your Idioms. I have them.
Just recently I started a new job at The Spire Institute working with Michael Johnson Performance training high school/prep kids. Yesterday I had the opportunity to go down to the courts and watch the boys basketball team run through their practice, which brings me to todays point: go watch your athletes play/practice once in a while. 

This point is something that I'd never really thought about before (although I'm sure it's old-hat to a lot of coaches). When I was at BU, I never really got the chance to watch the athletes practice or play because of my own personal schedule. I watched women's hockey skate once, but I didn't learn a whole lot because there wasn't a ton to learn. Those girls were already creeping up to the top tier of their sport; BU is one of the better hockey schools in the country and many of those girls had been weight training for at least 2-3 years. 

Going to watch the boys practice gave me all sorts of information about them as individual athletes that I wasn't getting from seeing them in the weight room. I could see the guys who were lacking in flexibility/mobility/stability and couldn't get their center of gravity low enough to dribble the ball and run fast at the same time. I got to see the guys who couldn't stabilize their body to produce enough power to get to the rim during layup drills; guys I would've expected to be able to dunk. The guys who are snipers, but lack the quickness to be able to separate themselves from defenders for a shot. 

It's very easy, as a coach, to sit down to write a program and say "this athlete plays this sport so they will have poor mobility here, bad flexibility here, be dominant in this muscle group and weak in this muscle group". This isn't a bad thing, because as coaches we have learned enough to know that this is usually true, but we can't forget that each athlete is still an individual and will have very individual needs. Fine tune each of your programs so that your clients and athletes are getting the best of what will make them better.

Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Why You Need To Pay Attention To CrossFit

CrossFit has been a hot topic for the last few years and will continue to be. Followers of the trend are zealous about their training and detractors go to great lengths to discredit the system and those who practice it.

Let me state that I do not "do" CrossFit. I have enjoyed done floundered my way through a few WOD's and just don't like that "redline" feeling that I get from them. I love training and lifting, but don't get anything out of pushing myself to that limit metabolically during a workout. With that being said, I have a bunch of friends who train CrossFit and two very close friends who manage different CrossFit Gyms (Dan and Brett). Both of those guys come from traditional (dare I say, elite) Strength and Conditioning backgrounds and have found a love and appreciation for CrossFit.

I've also made a bunch of good contacts in the online strength and conditioning community and have noticed (as you all have as well) a huge contingent of people who think that CrossFit is the devil. Literally Satan himself. Even something as tragic as the Kevin Ogar injury was being blamed on the CrossFit "system" of training (and other factors), which I don't really agree with.

I've got a pretty varied background: I interned with a D1 S&C program at BU, I've been more or less mentored by Tony Gentilcore, the co-owner of one of the most highly respected private strength and conditioning facilities in the country, I've coached classes in CrossFit gyms and I now train exclusively as an olympic weightlifter. It was during a conversation a few months ago with a colleague when I mentioned something about a CrossFit athlete and was met with the response "I don't pay attention to CrossFit".

That's when I started thinking about this post. So many people in traditional strength and conditioning are still dismissing CrossFit as a fad or some bullshit training system like P90X. Tony recently wrote a post about how strength training existed before CrossFit, and I know what he's saying. Just because you're holding a barbell or breathing hard doesn't make it CrossFit. When you've dedicated your career to something and people can't recognize it for what it is, it will be frustrating.

Things Have Changed

But for any strength coach or personal trainer out there to still be dismissing CrossFit or thinking it's some bullshit training system needs to remove their head from their anus ASAP. It's difficult to not acknowledge the growth that CrossFit has seen since it's inception. What was once someone blindly following the mainsite programming (which was mainly just WOD's) on a daily basis at home has become people going to their gyms and working with coaches on programming that creates better movement and progressive overload designed to work on weak points and get people stronger.

I have no idea what the actual numbers are, but tens of thousands of people are heading to CF gyms on a daily basis and working hard doing the things that we preach: mobility, compound movements, sprinting. Shit, there are a ton of random people who sit at desks all day who can do freestanding handstands, a movement that I can't do. People also love to bash on the coaches and how anyone who has a thousand bucks and a weekend can become a CrossFit level 1 coach...but that's true of any certification. You can become a CSCS and USAW level 1 coach without having an Exercise Science degree or being able to do the movements you're going to be coaching. But, I know a bunch of CrossFit coaches with credentials such as: BS in Strength and Conditioning,  BS in Kinesiology, MS in Exercise Physiology, CSCS, ACSM HFI, USAW, PICP, in PT school  and more. Gone are the days of gyms filled with coaches who were good at CrossFit but couldn't tell their ass from their acetabulum. CrossFit has attracted some serious coaches with serious backgrounds and they are doing great things.

The Greater Effect

It's easy to look at the "global" level of CrossFit and say "ok, those athletes look amazing and perform well but they are pro athletes". Sure, Froning and Khalipa and Thorisdottir look, perform and train like pro athletes because that's what they are. But when the Regionals happen this spring, go to your local event and tell me how those athletes look to you. Many (most?) of them are regular 9-5'ers who have to work their training schedule around their regular lives; work, school and family. Look at the levels of performance these men and women have achieved and tell me if you think CrossFit is still a joke.

You can now take it a level beneath that as well; go walk into one of the local CrossFit gyms in your area (be fair, don't go to the shitty new one with 3 members, but also don't go to the giant one with 450 members) and watch a class. Well, most gyms won't really let you do that, so let me tell you what you're going to see in there. You're going to see a bunch of regular people, people you'd normally see on the elliptical, starting their workout with a dynamic warm-up. Then you'll see them get their hands on a barbell and do some compound movements; true, you're going to see varying levels of proficiency, but that's not different than people you'd see in a normal commercial gym or even a varsity weight room (trust me, I've seen people training in both with technique that made my soul weep). You'll even see these people get into their WOD and push themselves pretty damn hard. Again, form can get a little dicey here, but if the coaches are good then nobody will be using a weight for a lift that they can't handle. I've coached classes and we were more than happy to tell someone mid-WOD to lower the weight or regress the exercise for them. These people are seeing changes in droves: weight loss, muscle gain, improvement in movement quality. The coaches are doing something right. Also, not everyone who tries CrossFit is going to love it! There will be people who don't like pushing themselves to the "redline", or don't like the group setting or the CrossFit Bro's in snapbacks and Vibrams. These people will find the right trainers/coaches for themselves.

One of the downsides of traditional strength and conditioning is that it's not exactly "accessible". In the greater Boston area I can only think of a handful of legit places (CP in Hudson, TPS in Everett, Ranfone Training in CT which is a few hours away...someone remind me if I'm missing any) where someone can get hands-on with a real strength and conditioning coach. Sure, you can do distance coaching via email but it's not exactly the same. Civilians can't get access to collegiate weight rooms/coaches, so you're left to roll the dice with commercial gyms and personal trainers. Meanwhile I think I counted 25 CrossFit gyms within 10 miles of downtown Boston. Strength coaches love to tell you to see a qualified strength coach...but there isn't one standing on every street corner.

What I'm Saying

No, I'm not suggesting that all personal trainers and strength coaches run out and get jobs at CF gyms or get their level 1 certifications. Nor am I suggesting that CF is the king of training systems. But CrossFit has introduced barbell training, and metabolic conditioning and the simple concept of movement quality to the masses. The things most Americans know about fitness are The Biggest Loser and The CrossFit games, we can't change that. The CrossFit system of training is no longer the clusterfuck that it used to be; there are tons of (over)qualified coaches out there applying the same good ol' fashioned strength and conditioning practices to their gyms that any S&C coach would be happy to have in their weightroom.

Rather than bash CrossFit and those who adhere to it, I suggest we all acknowledge the impact it has had on the greater good and find out how to translate their success into our success. Isn't that what we all want anyway? For people to get off of the treadmills and arc trainers and start lifting weights and moving like we are supposed to. Or do we only want them to do that within the walls of our own facilities?

If you disagree with me, that's fine. That doesn't make either one of us an asshole or a bad person. It just means we disagree. Let me know what you think.

Have a great day and go lift some heavy shit.