To know where you are going then you need to know where you have been. Next year will mark the end of my first decade of professional strength and conditioning with elite athletes. 2017 marks probably my last year as a full time employed strength and conditioning coach. The way my life is lining up currently self employment and business is where I am headed. I love working with people whilst working with professional sports men and women and Olympic athletes is cool it’s the people that I like. Rugby is special because there are so many good people involved in the sport, it’s cut throat and brutal on a regular basis because it’s professional sport but the people are spectacular.
What I want to do with this article is show how influence changes with time in a profession and explain some choices which will surprise a few folk who probably think they know me. The one thing that I can say with certainty after my first decade of elite sport is be humble, the proud might rise quickly but they fall down even faster when shit hits the fan.
1 – Vladimir M Zatsiorsky
The science and practice of strength training was the first full proper text I ever read on strength training and today for me it is still heads and shoulders above the rest of the books available. There are a lot of erroneous things in the original and follow up text the mechanisms for hypertrophy are hilarious in the light of modern knowledge. The practical advice and outcomes when it comes to the design of strength training and the training of athletes is not only empirical and fantastically put across but practical!
There are a lot of other books out there on this subject there are popular books like 5/3/1 or starting strength that are incredibly shallow if you want to be anything other than a lifter. Alternatively, you have texts like super training which are tombs of knowledge so horrifically written that it could send an insomniac to sleep.
The Science and Practice of strength training is for my money the best book ever written on the subject of getting stronger. It’s not the best sports specific text ever produced but it does a fantastic job of putting across the important concepts in a way that can be understood but isn’t dumbed down.
If anyone ever asks me for a book to read if they are interested in strength coaching the science and practice is always the first text I recommend.
2 – Louie Simmons
The website that really captured my attention when I started to really get into S&C or strength training as a topic was T-Nation. In 2005-2007 I read the entire contents of that website right from their very first post right up to the most recent articles. I had them all saved on my hard drive as word documents and re-read a lot of the articles it wasn’t Louie’s work directly I was reading but it was his work that was being regurgitated for about 70% of the articles.
My opinion on Louie’s work has changed massively as I have aged and gained experience as a strength coach but I can’t deny his influence on my development. I used the Westside template and derivates thereof for years in my training and still do steal methods and ideas from those programmes and templates.
The is a huge cult of personality around Louie in the strength and powerlifting world. A lot of people who aren’t steeped in the strength training science or world think of Louie as some sort of god who produces the strongest lifters of all time. There are a whole bunch of qualifying statements that need to be made besides these claims but Louie’s influence can not be denied.
For me, the biggest thing that I took away from these learning experiences is the need to be flexible and to look at more than one tool when you’re trying to solve a problem.
3 – Johan Pretorius.
I have had many mentors through my years as a strength and conditioning coach and they have helped me in many ways and have been generous enough to give me their time and attention. But sometimes tough love is exactly what you need, especially as a type A personality with a know it all attitude. I won’t shy away from it I am confident in my own abilities in the realm of strength and conditioning to the point where I might be considered an arrogant ass.
My time at Edinburgh rugby has easily been the most amount of learning and growing I have ever done in my life as a strength and conditioning coach. I entered into the job as an above average strength coach and will leave it as a well-rounded strength and conditioning coach.
Johan came from a background which involved ultra-marathon and tri-Athlon and a strong Christian belief. As an atheist powerlifter, this wasn’t going to be a match made in heaven. Johan came into the programme that I was running rough shot over as an assistant and just ran his own show. This stuck in my craw something serious I detracted from it and delivered it begrudgingly, which was pathetic from my point I should have been more professional.
Johan and myself had many heated exchanges and “debates” better termed as shouting matches. A couple of frank conversations with the head coach and Johan showed me pretty quickly that I should get on board or fuck off, so I got on board.
What I learned during my short 6 months with Johan advanced me on leaps and bounds as a strength and conditioning coach, I learnt that strength training was only one small part of the puzzle and that specificity was the overriding factor in sports conditioning.
I still don’t agree wholeheartedly with everything Johan did but I can only thank him for the influence he had on me and the positive changes it made to me as a coach.
4 – Boris Shikeo
Boris Shikeo is one of if not the greatest strength coach of all time his results speak for themself. The 8 hours that I spent in his seminar last year in February have been hugely transformational in my programming and in my programme delivery.
Showing that volume manipulation and skill learning can lead to all-time record achievements and god knows how many IPF and EPF championship medals can show a man that displaying strength in the gym doesn’t mean your building it.
The complexity and detail that go into his training cycles simply aren’t even close to being matched by anyone else who puts information out into the internet or books. He is on another level when it comes to the understanding of training manipulation.
The concepts that he extols such as skill learning, exercise specificity and most importantly of all for strength and conditioning coaches the submaximal intensity applied with sufficient volume can be transformative to your strength programmes. I have had a few of my strongest and most seasoned players put on 10-20 kg on their back squat by using a mixture of exercise variation and submaximal training. All whilst increasing their speed times drastically and being a lot less fatigued from their training.
If you get the opportunity to see the man in the flesh it is money more than well spent. I am considering learning Russian just so I could read/understand him natively.
5 – Ashley Jones
Ash is now a personal friend and he has been my boss and mentor for 18 months. Ash is fantastic human being first and outstanding strength coach second. Johan was hugely influenced by Ash’s work and the first book that he shared with me was Ash’s book Engineering Physical Performance.
What I learned from Ash wasn’t anything technical or practical (although I learned plenty of that) what I learned from Ash was to coach players as people. It’s too easy to treat your lifters or athletes like machines who only job in life is to produce better outcomes in your spreadsheet this is the mark of a shit strength and conditioning coach.
Not everyone needs the same input from their coach sure some folk need to get stronger, some need to get fitter and some need to get faster but not everyone needs to do the same amount of the same stuff. If you have open channels of communication you can easily tailor an athletes training to better suit their emotions, personality and needs.
If strength and conditioning coaches were fictional characters I would be Drago from Rocky, for me it’s about process and outcome. Ash has shown me the outcome isn’t always just testing quite a lot of the time it can be the relationship and trust you build with a player or client.
This for me is the mark of a truly outstanding coach one who can affect change in an athlete but do so as a humanist and mentor. Not just as a spreadsheet wielding ball breaker.