Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Learn it, know it!

Learn it, know it!

Just got back from SWIS 2016, an amazing seminar in which “the Top Powerlifters, Bodybuilders, Doctors, Therapists, Trainers, Strength Coaches, and Nutritionists all presented their best information.”  http://swis.ca/swis-symposium-2016/

It was a great experience! Now I need to go over the seminars again (Ken Kinakin, the organizer of this brilliant event, had videos of every presentation made and makes them available to the attendees), digest the info and then figure out how to apply much of it.

As I mature as a coach, I always think during a lecture or workshop that I attend: “How can I use this great information? When can I implement it?”.

I just read a great blog by Ian King entitled “Knowing but not Doing”.

Read it! It is not long.

He expounds on a Zen concept: “To know and not do is to not know.

I am doing a disservice to myself and my athletes if I do not USE the information I gathered at SWIS 2016. No, I am not going to kid you and say that I will implement everything I heard and learned about. But I will review much of what I heard and find ways to use it to make my athletes better.

You have clothes in your wardrobe that you never wear. I am not talking about your wedding dress, or the suit that you wear to weddings and funerals. I am talking about 80% of what is hanging in your closet. Don’t do that with your “knowledge”.

Don’t be that guy who has attended tons of workshops and is still doing exactly the same things he was doing 5 years ago. Do you have a list of courses and seminars that you have attended as long as your arm and are not taking advantage of the tools you were exposed to?

I learned much over the last weekend.

Now I will make the effort to know it!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Thank you Gordie Howe

Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe, was laid to rest this past week.

Wayne Gretzky called Gordie Howe the greatest hockey player ever. I think that that pretty much sums things up.

Howe was described by his teammates “a clean dirty player”. He had the fear and respect of his opponents on the ice. He always gave his best.

He was a terror on the ice but off the ice he was humble and giving. He gave time and energy to many people and causes. He was very unassuming and an “ah, shucks” type of guy off the ice.

Hockey players like that make me proud to be Canadian. Living in Europe, I really feel “Canadian” when I watch a hockey game or try to play myself (I am unfortunately brutal!).

There is a life lesson for me from Gordie Howe.

Battle and give your best in your sport or your job.

When the dust settles and the game is over, be gracious and humble.

Take our game or work seriously, but do not take ourselves too seriously.

Mr. Hockey, rest in peace.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

What I Learned from Dmitry Klokov

What I Learned From Dmitry Klokov

As a conditioning coach working with athletes in a variety of sports, it is often a goal to make an athlete stronger. I do not work with “strength” athletes, i.e. where success is measured by the amount of weight on the bar (powerlifting and weightlifting). Strength is just one piece of the conditioning pie, but an important piece. Strength fascinates me - to study (the theory) and to make my athletes stronger (the practice).

One pet peeve of mine is that many athletes are impatient and just want to go “balls to the wall” when they are trying to improve their one repetition maximum. I believe that if you want to get stronger (increased maximal strength) you must lift heavy weights, but you cannot do this all the time. You need a plan that will bring you to your goals or new PRs, and you need patience and intelligence.

I had the pleasure of attending a weightlifting seminar a week ago led by Dmitry Klokov, the Russian weightlifter. It was in Innsbruck, organized by Crossfit Innsbruck head coach and owner Tom Hölzl. Klokov is a world champion weightlifter, and won a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics. Here is a link to a list of his best lifts; there is a video also on this page:
--> http://www.allthingsgym.com/dmitry-klokov-personal-records/.

Two things really hit home for me in the seminar.

1: He is very exact with technique in all the lifts he showed us and had us try.

2: He does not recommend going HEAVY a lot. 

Dmitry teaching an old dog (me) new tricks!
Photo courtesy of 
-->Crossfit Innsbruck

I was very happy to hear that a monster like Klokov preaches patience and prudence in strength training. I am going to give a couple of examples of other strength experts who also preach that patience and brains will conquer balls and ego over time.

Jim Wendler has a great lifting system known as 5/3/1. He has squatted 1000 lbs. and benched 675 lbs. This is a direct quote from Wendler’s article in T Nation:

While it may seem counter intuitive to take weight off the bar when the goal is to add weight to it, starting lighter allows you more room to progress forward. This is a very hard pill to swallow for most lifters. They want to start heavy and they want to start now.
This is nothing more than ego, and nothing will destroy a lifter faster, or for longer, than ego.

Mark “Smelly” Bell, owner of the Supertraining Gym, and a very accomplished powerlifter, says in his seminar with aspiring NFL combine hopefuls helping them with their 225 lbs. max reps training, says (my words, his are similar in the video):

You don’t need to lift insane heavy weights to get stronger. That you can go 100 – 105% ONLY ON OCCASION! He feels that 90-95% of your training should look clean (meaning lifting with good technique). Here is the link to the video: 
--> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAqyJs4Zfpw

The take home message is that when you want to get stronger, you should leave your ego at the door and start with conservative loads to make sure that you can progress every workout as you move to increase your maximal strength. You should also lift with the best possible technique. This will decrease your risk of injury. These are simple concepts, but they are too rarely used.

You must have a plan; you have to know when to go “hard” and when to be “smart”. And training smart is almost always a better plan than training “hard”. Yes, you can lift heavy at times if you are ready, but be smart and be patient.

This season (2015-16) Peter Penz and Georg Fischler won a silver medal in men’s doubles at the FIL luge world championships, and Janine Flock also won silver in the IBSF women’s skeleton world championships. I was responsible for their strength training. I don’t often publicly put notches on my belt when my athletes have success, because I am just part of a bigger team that works with these athletes.

In our Olympic training center, we have physiotherapists, masseurs, sport psychologists and a nutritionist who work with our athletes. Then there are the specific sport coach and assistant coaches, and the technicians who work on the equipment; the list goes on and on. At the risk of omitting other important people involved I will simply say that this list is not complete. I have not listed all the people who contributed to the success. Some of my coaching colleagues whom I work with also contribute to the training. There are really too many people involved for me to “take credit”.

Why do I then write about these athletes in this case? To show that we are working with real athletes in the real world, and indeed it is sometimes a challenge to get them stronger and to keep them patient at the same time. They are highly motivated, and they work hard. A huge part of my job is to make sure that they also work smart - lift with good technique, and know WHEN to go heavy!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

What I learned from Sergei Makarov

Last week I watched Red Army, a documentary about Soviet hockey in the 80s directed by Gabe Polsky. Great film, and even if you are not a hockey fan it is well worth watching.

This film brought back a memory for me from my days of testing athletes in the Human Performance Lab in the 90s. We tested the Calgary Flames every year at the start of their training camp, with a VO2max and also a Wingate test (both on cycle ergometers).

I was very excited when Sergei Makarov got onto the bike and I was about to test him. This was a big deal for me, because Soviet hockey held a mystique for me as a hockey-mad kid growing up in Canada in the 70s.

Back then the Russians were portrayed as robots with unbelievable levels of fitness, and now I was going to test one of the very best (three-time Soviet Player of the Year, the M in the legendary KLM line and member of the IIHF All Centennial Team).

Now I was going to see how fit a Russian hockey robot was! Sergei spoke no English (at least not on that day in the lab) and we started the test. The test starts out easy, and gets gradually tougher. As we got to the point when the test just starts to get interesting, at about the anaerobic threshold, I cheered him on and said that now the “real” test was beginning. He pedaled for about another 30 seconds, and then just stopped pedaling.

He just stopped.

He just stopped. 

He may have broken a sweat, I can’t remember, but he was obviously not in discomfort or having any problems. WTF?

Yes, I repeated that he stopped, because I was completely in shock at that moment. I was speechless.

Now that many years have passed, I don’t feel bad airing this story, as it is old news. The informed consent form that the athletes signed ensured them that the results were confidential. I won’t say what his VO2 was, because I can’t remember and if I could, well, it’s confidential information!

So why am I telling this story? In my mind I finally saw this from another point of view. I DO NOT KNOW why he gave up, I can only speculate.

Here is my new take: he had grown up and played in the Soviet system, and undoubtedly was put through a very rigorous fitness program. He was over 30 years old, had a solid reputation, and knew that he was in Calgary to contribute offense to the team. He had no need to demonstrate his fitness, had a contract and was NHL rookie of the year the previous season. He had probably done so many ridiculous sport science tests in the USSR that he just said “Ебать его”.

So…. my point is that with his experience and self-confidence, he decided that this test was not a priority for him.

I AM NOT encouraging athletes or coaches to think that fitness is not important.

But I am saying that sometimes some athletes do not look at the big picture and figure out what to prioritize. They don’t know, or don’t want to know what are the things that they truly need to focus on, or improve.

These athletes with the wrong priorities may be very fit, or very unfit. But what is stopping them from reaching the next level? Two types of athletes who don’t work smart are: the ego strokers, and the guilty hard workers.

A classic example of ego stroking is if you give athletes an optional workout to train whatever they want, the guy with the big bench will train bench. The guy who can hit 10 3-pointers in a row will go shoot. I think that you get the idea.

Then there are the “guilty hard workers”. I really believe that some athletes have it engrained into them that they MUST work harder than everyone else. You know this line: “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”.

The problem with this is that hard work alone will not make an athlete successful. But some feel that hard work is the cure-all for them. It is that old “Protestant work ethic”.

I have seen some athletes work very hard, but are, well, to be blunt, just being stupid. Yes, stupid. I had an athlete who was very fit, was a true symbol and example of hard work and determination, but needed to work on other aspects of performance. This was a very successful athlete, but had room to improve. And fitness was not one of the areas that needed improvement. This is not blatant self-promotion as the conditioning coach - this athlete was very fit before working with me. This athlete did get stronger and improved aerobic fitness with me. But other aspects needed work.

Working harder is not working smarter. You have to figure out how much energy is needed to maintain excellent fitness, and then prioritize: invest your energy in other parts of your game if those other parts are holding you back.

I use the analogy of investing money. Do you pick the investment specialist who promises that he will work “hard” on your investments and get you 3% profit, or the guy who says he can get you 6% but does not discuss the “hard work”? Obviously this is a complicated example, but it is about the BOTTOM LINE. If you can work 40 hours a week and earn x dollars, why work 60 hours for the same salary?
Many of us actually feel guilty if we aren't working much too hard. And we tend to think very highly of people who hate what they do; that is irrationally seen as somehow more virtuous than having a job one loves!  
From: Barbara G. Goodrich, Ph.D., January, 2010: The “Protestant/Calvinist Work Ethic" http://carbon.ucdenver.edu/~bgoodric/The%20Calvinist%20Work%20Ethic%20and%20Consumerism.htm

A workaholic is a person who is addicted to work. While the term generally implies that the person enjoys their work, it can also imply that they simply feel compelled to do it.

Athletes need to be sure that the hard work is necessary, and moving them in the right direction. They and their coaches need to analyse their performance, figure out what is needed for success, and decide if they have what it takes to succeed. This process is not easy.

It must be objective. It is no fun to list weaknesses. It is no fun to confront weaknesses.

I get a kick out of conditioning coaches who brag about how fit or strong their athletes are. How much can Usain Bolt squat? What does Tom Brady bench?

I remember talking to a Norwegian ski coach who told me that Kjetil Andre Aamodt had an amazing work ethic in training. He had spectacular success, is in fact the most successful alpine ski racer in history when using Olympic and world championship medals as the measuring stick.

Aamodt squatted 220 kg at a bodyweight of 85 kg. We were in the Olympiatoppen (Oympic Training Center) in Oslo in 2012 and Aamodt still had the record for the best overall fitness score in the tests that the Norwegians put their athletes through (he retired in 2007).

The same ski coach told me that Aamodt’s teammate, Lasse Kjus, on the other hand, was lazy. I have a hard time believing this, but he could very well have looked lazy when training with an animal like Aamodt. But Kjus was no slouch! He is second only to Aamodt in Olympic and world championship medals!

There is special device (the gliding tester) in Austria which ski racers use with their own skis and boots to test their gliding position and see if they are flat on their skis in their tuck position. Once when Kjus was using this device he and his ski boot technician fiddled and faddled for HOURS until he was satisfied with his boots and his position on his skis.

This is NOT a stereotypical lazy athlete. But this is an example of investing his time in other things which would enable him to be successful.

As a conditioning coach I want to make my athletes stronger, faster, fitter. But I recognize that conditioning is only a slice of the success pie. By working with the athlete, and the event coach (or coaches) and other support staff I can see the big picture, prioritize and contribute to my athlete’s success.

And not just go to games, meets, races or tournaments to brag about how much Johnny can bench, or how high Sergei's VO2max is.

Thanks Sergei!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas! What are you giving your athletes?

Got the last of my presents wrapped, and was wondering what is the best gift to give an athlete. As a coach you may not be able to GIVE it, but you can enhance and nurture it.

Self-esteem is one of the most precious things that a person can have.

What got me thinking about this was a 6-year-old boy I know. He is a very special little guy, the son of a girlfriend of ours. He celebrated his 6th birthday not too long ago in a public facility that offers the opportunity for kids to have parties. He and 7 friends were very wound up and the moms left the kids in the hands of an adult who supervised them during the party. She had to scold them a bit because they were pretty rambunctious. When it was all over, the little guy told the lady who supervised them that it was the worst birthday he had ever had and that she ruined it for him and his friends with her strict behavior and scolding. The adult supervisor was amazed at this little guy giving her crap. I laughed SO hard when my wife told me this story.

I immediately replied that I would not have had the stones at 12 years of age to do what he did at 6. I probably wouldn’t have had them at 18 either! I was brought in a world in which many kids were raised with the motto “children are meant to be seen, not heard.” I DID NOT have a terrible childhood, my dad was a huge part of my sporting career, and I am not going to grind an axe about my past. But I will say that my dad seldom asked for my opinion was as a kid, and I learned to keep my ideas and opinions to myself. There were times that he berated me for not standing up for myself with other people. But where should I have learned to value my own opinion and ideas?

Where does self-esteem come from? How does an athlete learn that he or she is a special person, with or without a great sporting performance? When does an athlete trust her/himself?

I try to get athletes as self-reliant as possible. Why? Because I can’t swim, sprint, slide, jump or fight for them. They must perform. Without me.

I encourage them to make decisions in the weight room, on the track, or wherever. Sometimes after a good lift one will ask me “how much should I load up now?” Sometimes I give an opinion, sometimes I tell them that they can answer that question better than me – after all, they just lifted the last load, and I cannot FEEL how heavy the bar was.

I am NOT the all-knowing, almighty, omnipotent coach. I am a guide to their inner self. They must unlock their potential. I want to empower them.

I see myself as a consultant. If they cannot talk to me as an equal, share their opinion, express their view, how can they dominate their opponents?

Do you discuss things with your athletes, or dictate to them? Who is the boss?

This depends on the level of the athlete, and the experience of the athlete. But I do want their self-esteem, self-confidence and self-reliance to grow during their time with me.

I am not a psychologist; I don’t know where or when this mysterious entity known as self-esteem is developed. But I think that when am athlete comes to me I can nurture it, and improve it. I do know that a coach can negatively impact self-esteem. And if I do this as a coach, shame on me.

Not all of my athletes will win Olympic gold. But I can empower every one of them as athletes, and they can use the tools they develop to excel in other areas of later life.

What it comes down to, as a coach, is that it is not about me.

It. Is. Not. About. Me.

This is the gift that I want to never stop giving.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Get stronger, get better!

I am in Abano Terme, Italy, enjoying the information being shared at the International Congress of Strength Training.

Dr. Robert Newton, an internationally known expert on strength and power training from Australia, gave a interesting presentation. He discussed strength and power in sport, and the importance of getting athletes strong.

He told us how he predicted that Australia would have a poor performance in the 2012 Olympics in London 5 months before the games, which did not make him popular in Australia. Unfortunately he was correct. He saw a trend in Australian elite sport of less emphasis on strength and power and felt that this would have dire consequences.

We test the Austrian ski team at the University of Innsbruck with a repeated loaded jump test. Women perform counter movement jumps with a barbell equivalent to 20% of body weight. So a 60 kg woman will jump with a 12 kg bar. A couple of years ago I noticed that the women were producing more power during this test. I talked to the conditioning coach and he told me that they were doing little or no strength endurance work in the gym and concentrating on maximal strength and power work. I had been preaching this for a while, and was glad to hear that the skiers were training more for strength and power. Their strength endurance training was almost exclusively done with ski training on snow.

In the past they had done much strength endurance work in the weight room. I have a philosophical problem with power athletes (skiing is in my mind a power sport) doing strength endurance work with weights when their maximal strength levels are not optimal.

Strength endurance is an important quality which ski racers need, this cannot be disputed. The shortest alpine ski event is slalom, with races sometimes just over a minute for women. The longest women's race is approximately 2 minutes, usually the downhill in Cortina. So anaerobic fitness and the ability to maintain power over 1 to 2 minutes is critical.

But if an athlete is weak, training for strength endurance is counterproductive. Get strong, then train to extend this strength, or improve your work capacity. If you are weak and train to extend your poor strength over a longer period of time, you are simply extending a poor performance. Get stronger first, then train to maintain this strength over the period you need for your sport. Seems pretty logical to me.

In the case of power athletes who have little or no need for strength endurance and want to express force in a short period of time, maximal strength should also be emphasized. Some sport movements are so fast or so powerful that they cannot be simulated in a weight room. Charlie Francis, the coach of Ben Johnson ( and many other very fast athletes) believed that the power produced in the hip joint by a world class sprinter on the track could not be duplicated in the weight room. The joint angular velocities were simply too high. With Ben he used heavy squats (600 lbs for 6 reps) to become more powerful on the track. Ben also benched over 400 lbs at a body weight of 175 lbs.

If a power athlete is weak and is performing power work in the gym, they may be wasting time. Get strong first, then get powerful.

Mark Rippetoe wrote an interesting article in t-nation about the state of strength and conditioning coaching and how more emphasis needs to be put on maximal strength.

He explained the relationship between maximal strength and power.

P = F x v.  P is power, F is force and v is velocity.

He basically said that if I can improve my ability to produce force, I will be more powerful.

Maximal strength is THE basic strength quality for all other expressions of strength, including power and strength endurance. Get strong and get better.

I am obviously simplifying things here, but I write more about the philosophy of training, and leave the "how" to others who do a great job of presenting and describing programs on a number of platforms on the net.

I could discuss the use of plyometrics in the program, and when to integrate power and/or strength endurance into the strength program, but I believe that many athletes (yes, elite athletes) could improve performance simply by getting stronger.

I am NOT taking the stand of some STRENGTH and conditioning coaches who concentrate solely on strength. There are many ways to make an athlete better - improving speed, flexibility, agility, etc., without weights. And the coach has to ensure that the strength program is having no negative effects on more important aspects of the athlete's performance.

There are examples of very powerful athletes who did little or no weight training. Carl Lewis is perhaps the most prominent example, and Obadele Thompson (9.87 100m, 19.97 200m) was described by Dan Pfaff as having "an iron allergy".

There are always exceptions. But in general if you can get an athlete stronger without interfering with their technical and tactical training, you will improve performance. So lose your iron allergy and get better by getting stronger.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

What Will Be YOUR Olympic Story?

Bode Miller is the most interesting ski racer on the world cup circuit right now. No one has had as much personality in the white circus since Alberto Tomba. Bode speaks his mind, he is his own man and he has accomplished A LOT in alpine ski racing. I have never spoken with him, but have talked to people who have coached him or worked with him and I believe that he is a very cerebral athlete. I respect his achievements but I respect even more that he says and does what he feels is best for him. I also think that he is good for world cup skiing, because it has been very conservative and at times, well, has very little public personality (politically correct way to say boring).

So this is not a roast of Bode. But I am using him as an example that as an athlete you have to seize the moment, because it may never come again.

Bode is the most successful male American ski racer ever, and certainly the most well-known. But his “legacy” could have been truly amazing.  He already has 5 Olympic medals (1 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze) and could win more in Sochi. Kjetil Andre’ Aamodt has the most alpine skiing Olympic medals (8 total, 4 gold). I doubt that Bode can win 3 medals in Sochi now (after no medal in downhill), and almost certainly he will not win 3 gold. So Aamodt’s place in history is secure for now.

In Torino, one of the most publicized photos of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games was Bode dancing with a girl with a drink in his hand, that glassy look in his eyes and his middle finger aimed at the camera. I was personally upset with him at that time, not because he was screwing up his chance to make history, but because of his failure as a role model. I am sure that he didn’t want to be one, but by being a poster child for Nike, he automatically became one. As far as him blowing his chances to win medals (he had 8 world cup podiums in that 2006 season so he was a top contender), I figured that that was his business, not mine, not anyone else’s. Many Americans had a different opinion, and he was dragged over the coals by the media.

He did very poorly in Torino (by standards of others, judged on world cup results that season), with 2 DNFs and 1 DQ. His other results were 5th and 6th. But hey, he partied!

In an interview shortly after his last race, he said that it had "been an awesome two weeks," and that he "got to party and socialize at an Olympic level."            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bode_Miller

I still think that it was his business, but after dominating the downhill training runs in Sochi, he was a favorite to win and disappointed when he finished 8th. http://sports.yahoo.com/news/bode-miller-misses-medal-chance-in-men-s-downhill-at-sochi-games-081514955.html

He is a fierce competitor, so of course he is not happy after being so fast in training. Also, this is most likely his last Olympics, and he probably wants to go out with a bang. Even for Bode the chances at glory are finite.

Time is running out. I surmise that the pain of knowing that his Olympic career is almost over would be less if he knew that he had always competed to his potential. But that’s my opinion. I am 100% convinced that Bode does not care what I think. But that is not the point of this post.

The moral of this story is that for many of us, the big chance in life does not come around more than once. And for all of us, the chances DO end eventually. This is Bode’s 5th Olympics, but he did blow his chance at becoming a rare Olympic legend.

He has had (is having!) an amazing career, but he did not achieve all that he could have.

If any of you Olympians read this, consider what you want to do in Sochi. Most of you will not win medals. But do you want to compete at your best, to walk away and 30 years from now be satisfied that you gave your best, and were your best?

Is your Olympic dream partying, blogging, posting on facebook, tweeting, or getting as many selfies with famous athletes as possible? Then go for it.

Don’t do it for me, or your coach, or whoever. Do what YOU want to do. But do it 100%.

NOW you have to know why are you doing it, and consider if you will be happy with your deeds 30 years from now. Because A LOT of you will only get ONE chance to write your Olympic story.