I was training my Dad yesterday at the “gym” in his condo which is essentially a walk-in closet with a few dumbells, an adjustable bench (thank god!), a lat pulldown, a treadmill and elliptical, and some other minor pieces of equipment. Needless to say, it isn’t perfect by any means both in terms of space and available equipment, but it has enough of the bare essentials for a good workout to be possible.

This was also something I encountered during the early portion of my job working in Vaughan at the beginning of the summer. As we were opening up the facility, we didn’t have all the equipment I could possibly want, but there was enough that I could provide training results to our initial clients. Sometimes this required more creativity than others with respect to modifying exercises, but all in all it proved to be a valuable learning experience for me. The important thing isn’t what equipment you have access to or don’t have access to, its all in how you use it.

Expanding on this, I think where I was really able to improve in this area was when I had to train groups under two conditions: 1) either young pre-adolescent children and/or 2) training off-site. The former because I didn’t want to use anything that was too advanced for the young athletes (and frankly, they don’t require advanced things), and the latter because there was only so much equipment I could fit in my car. In the end these experiences helped me become a better coach and improved my ability to think on my feet.

Something I’ve learned from Pat at our gym is to always try new things, because just reading or thinking something does proove whether it’ll work or not with a specific group of clients. It isn’t that I’m scared of trying new things or scared of change, its just that Pat pushes these boundaries considerably more than I do which is something I admire and learn from.

Of course there is one main criterion for the exercises moving from the planning phase to the testing phase which is: does it impose an inherent danger to our clients? (Obviously the answer needs to be “no”)

From there we move to testing it out on ouselves which I find fun because I’m learning a new exercise but also about how the body works…weird, I know…

Anyways, the unfortunate thing about testing involving us two is that its a very small sample size as well as testing it once doesn’t give us the ability to really assess the exercise’s effectiveness since we aren’t considering possible progression in terms of the exercise performance. So pretty much I end up saying that if the exercise isn’t dangerous, let’s try it out with our clients. This is where the real fun begins as we can find out what technique cues need to be stressed with athletes of different skill levels/training age, where do athetes feel the movement (is it different from where we felt it, does this mean the exercise is too advanced, etc), how difficult/time consuming is it to teach, do our athletes see the purpose of the exercise (after explanation if they choose to ask of course), does it work better than other exercises we’ve used for the same purpose, etc.

Depending on whether the exercise is tested in the warm-up or during the main strength training portion of the training session, we can see some patterns in these areas after a certain time period and then evaluate the usefulness of the exercise for inclusion in the program. A sort of graduation for the exercise if you will.

I really believe that coaching adds an individual’s flare and personality to what I do because training is textbook; its just applying scientific principles. Coaching adds that extra degree though — how do you keep motivating a client to keep pushing in a workout? How do you get a client to understand what you had to go to university for and (usually) multiple certifications?

The longer I am in this line of work, the more I believe that coaching is that X-factor — and something I want to be the best at simply because it will equate to greater success for both my clients and I.

I learned this lesson during my first personal training certification evaluation over 3 years ago: at the end of the eval, the evaluator (the head trainer of the YMCA I was taking the course at) talked to me about how I explained the conditioning part to the “client” (him). He said that I should speak in simple terms because most clients don’t know the science  part of what we do — and they don’t need to. 3 yrs later, when I’m coaching an athlete or adult client, I still think about this every time I instruct an exercise, give a client feedback on form, or talk about nutrition!

This doesn’t mean I won’t talk about the science behind why they are doing a particular exercise a certain way, just that I won’t unless they ask me. I love the KISS principle: for those that don’t know, KISS = Keep it Simple, Stupid.  Its the same quality I admire in good teachers and mentors: the ability to make complex concepts sound simple.

Also it was Thanksgiving up here in Canada this past weekend, so I hope all my fellow Canuck readers had a good one!

Let’s start up another week of blogging shall we!!

Yesterday morning I was doing some off-site training with a couple groups of 7-8 year old hockey players, but the kicker was that I had one group for 1 hour and 15 minutes while the other group would work with me for half an hour. (Just to let you know they were not the same group/team) Regarding training time with this age group, I consider 1:15 WAYYYYYYYYY too long! One, they don’t need a training session to last over an hour (frankly I believe that 30 minutes is closer to optimal) — these kids were flat out gassed by the 45 minute mark  from low level plyos and basic bodyweight movement drills and I had to keep them going.

Two, it is unreasonable to expect this age group to remain focused for so long; if/when they get bored from this long of a training session it is not their fault, it is because they are 6,7,8 years old! We can’t expect them to behave like mature adolescent (or older) athletes because they aren’t!

Three, training at this age promotes adaptations to the nervous system. Like I mentioned in this post from last week, their bodies will be putting together information while they are performing the drills, but the nervous system will assimilate and refine the in-going and out-going information when it is resting and recovering. Unlike the muscular system, the nervous system a) gets fatigued much more easily and b) needs quality to be the focus over quantity (arguably to a greater degree than the muscular system).

Fortunately that first group managed to keep focus and putting forth effort very well considering their age and how long they were with me, however I was relieved for them when the session was over!

The second group which I had for 30 minutes went very well on the other hand. We did some low level plyos, bodyweight movement exercises, and got in some tug of war (which ended with a me vs them battle to the death!) which resulted in good focus by the athletes as well as everyone having a lot of fun and feeling good at the end.

Seeing the Body Learn

October 1, 2009

With only a few updates up over the past several months, it is obvious that none of those lead back into a more consistent blogging routine, so this time I’m not going to say or promise anything about upcoming posts because as I’m realizing more each day actions speak louder than words.

With today’s philosophical moment out of the way, its time to move on to the meat and potatoes of this post :)

Twice a week I work with a small group of 5-6 year olds on “speed” training. First, a few things: a) when I got my first training certification, I never expected to work with this age group and b) these two hours of my week are a couple of the most fun hours I have! But what I really want to write about is seeing learning in action. Each session these kids come back noticeably better in coordination drills, on keeping their balance on one leg, or with using decent arm drive technique while running — even their parents notice the difference week to week!

I think it is one of the coolest things to see this happen, especially at this age since the week to week improvement in movement/skill quality is so apparent. It is also why when introducing a new skill, I constantly remind myself to not overcoach it. I like Brian Grasso’s term “guided discovery” — the gist being that when a new movement or skill is introduced the body might not produce a perfect looking movement pattern right away or that first day, but from the get-go it is problem solving. And particularly with a younger age group, it is important to let the body’s nervous sytem problem solve without imposed limits. Then once the training session is over the nervous system is still at work making connections (basically like sorting through information) between it and the muscles to  be able to perform that new movement in the future.

To an extent I still coach like this with our older athletes (with both groups safety is kept in mind of course) because improved coordination and having experienced a greater variety of movements often means greater athleticism. Just because an athlete is 16, doesn’t necessarily mean that they have been exposed to every sort of movement — nor does it mean they cannot learn new movements and new ways of coordinating muscle actions — it might just take a little longer for these individuals to pick something up since their nervous systems are more “set in their ways”.


Definition of Insanity

August 15, 2009

I think it was Einstein’s definition of insanity that went something like “doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result” — and unfortunately it seems that in the world of youth sports (especially at more elite/”year-round” levels), there appears to be an insanity epidemic. Pretty strong words, but I’m just calling it what it is.

Our gym has been operating with private members since the end of May, and in that time, we’ve had a significant amount of athletes train with us who’ve either had some recurring or poorly-rehabbed (or non-rehabbed in cases) injuries when they began training with us or have developed injuries during their time with us while participating in their sporting obligations (practices, summer games, etc). Here’s why I began that post with Einstein’s definition of insanity: Whats the culture in youth sport, especially at competitive levels, regarding injuries?? Answer: keep working through it lest you (the athlete) be labelled as lazy, soft, and/or having poor work ethic. Ultimately the athletes are driven to behave insanely.

So what happens when the athlete is injured? The athlete gets scared of being benched, losing a starting spot, or not making the team. When asked about the state of an injury, athletes know what the coach wants to hear and they often don’t want let him or her down, not even mentioning the rest of the team. This is the problem, particularly in year-round sports where the athletes arguably don’t even get a true off-season! When is the athlete supposed to rest and heal? Up here hockey training camps are beginning over the next few weeks — what about newly formed injuries?

I view exercise as corrective in that not only can it lead to performance enhancement, but also to reduced risk of injury. Also when applied in a post-rehab sense, it can lead to a reduced risk of injury re-occurance and also proper healing. In other words, part of my job is to keep athletes healthy or help get them “healthy”. However the sporting culture of hiding injuries or not acknowledging them has been a significant challenge in the start-up of the gym as our attempts to provide the best training environment for the athletes has led us to basically ask them to not act with the false bravado surrounding injuries that they have been rewarded for during their athletic careers.

Hmmm, sounds to me like a recipe for some insane behaviour…

The longer our athletes train with us, the better they begin to understand our intentions and become open with admitting something doesn’t feel right. Unfortunately until they come around, the training could be doing more harm than good, and whats worse is that both the trainers and the athlete don’t even know it.

The first question that may have popped into your mind was “basics as in squats, deadlifts and other compound exercises?” And my answer is “No, even more basic than that”. So what could someone do that’s even more basic??

Let me just sidetrack briefly: The longer I’m in this industry working with young athletes, The more coaching/correcting I have to do of basic movement skills whether its running, side shuffling, backpedalling, or simple jumping. However, these all start with one basic position which most people have learned as an athletic position.

So when I mean “basic” in this post, I’m ging way back before we even talk about loading someone with a bar of their back. With inexperienced trainees, its often a case of having to cue the position of their hips, chest, eyes so that we can create a new habit. More experienced young athletes on the other hand, still need to be cued on staying in that athletic position for shuffling or to stay at the same level instead of popping when they run or perform some other movement drill.

With the inexperienced trainees, it becomes a case of teaching them that there is a best way to move on the field, court, or ice. With the more experienced athletes, its more a case of refining movement so that energy is not wasted or leaked.

This is something that can make a huge difference in terms of movement quality and in turn non-specific athletic performance.

Alos, I forgot to ask: to all you northeasterners (I’m including my feelow Canucks in this) — how ’bout this summery weather??!!