The fitness industry is constantly espousing new ideas and training methods - Is there anything you are currently using (that maybe you didn't use a couple of years ago) that you believe is really effective?
The importance in improving range of motion. Mobility techniques have exploded into my whole coaching life over the last year. The first time I performed some of Kelly Starret’s hip and shoulder mobility drills I felt like a new man. Since introducing these to all of the athletes and teams I train, I have seen the importance of it and how each individual has their own unique problems which are holding back their force producing potential. These problems are a definitive wall blocking their improvement in strength and skill. The ability to get the body into each phase of a movement is depicted by an individual’s proprioception and multi-limb co-ordination but if they are in some way restricted, then the positions are impossible to reach without comprising the structure of your joints or compromising a neutral spine.
Have you noticed any general key physical issues (common problems) among the adults/students that you train? If so, what sort of lifestyle/training habits do you think are causing these issues?
Hip flexor mobility. A massive problem across many of my athletes and clients are tight hip flexors. This is caused predominantly by being in extended positions flexed at the hip - sitting while studying, or working in an office, are the prime culprits, but exacerbated by not performing maintenance to fight back against this issue. For performance it means we cause a break in the chain, so force cannot be optimally transferred through the hips and the resultant pelvic tilt can cause glute inactivation. The modern lifestyle means all of us sit for a long period of time every day but we must actively fight this by stretching the hip flexor muscles (piriformis and psoas major).
You worked with KCL rugby in pre-season and it was the first time they have done such a formalised programme of training. They are now competing for promotion again and, whilst much of it comes down to the current group of players and the coaching, did you notice improvements whilst working with them?
Working with KCL Rugby has been a great privilege and from the beginning it was clear to see that the team has some great leaders who were ready to drive the team forward. We approached the pre-season strength and conditioning with the objective of improving the players’ rugby-specific strength, knowing that the new league would be much more physical. My objective from week 1 was to make it clear how the basic session we were doing would lead to improvement in more skill specific drills later in the programme. For example, for tackling we may work on the ROM around the hip (if needed) and glute strength through bridging or the deadlift. This would allow for improvements in hip extension strength and the ability to get into this tackling position. It is important to work on these initially, approximately for 6 weeks into pre-season (6 weeks prior to the first game). You no longer want to spend time on these platform strength objectives and need to work on the skill itself. It is the ability to transfer that newly found strength and mobility into the skill which is most important. The most improvements I found were those who were the most consistent in their training and picked my brain as much as possible. Those new to free weights saw great improvements in strength and robustness allowing them to execute their skills in a more physical environment.
Do you think their preseason has helped with their successful campaign so far?
When I work with any team or individual athlete my goal is to make them the best is the world, no matter what level they are. This mind-set allows me to search for all gaps between where they are now and if they were to be the best in the world or international players. This tends to cross over more than strength and conditioning but I would attribute this mind-set to all the successes I have had with this team and many others. However, I have only had an impact in that realm. Clearly for a newly promoted team to become top of their new league a multitude of factors must be present. Factors including: team cohesion, excellent coaching, leadership, having a good committee, the balance of third years, seconds years and fresher’s…many factors. The pre-season programme achieved its objectives in improving each individual’s rugby specific strength and fitness. It also educated all individuals on technique in the gym and what exercises are specific for rugby and what are not. A big factor in the success this season was King's commitment to the team as a massive part of their overall strategy for the next 3 years. This can change the mind-set of a team from recreation to competitive. Knowing that the university cares if they win or lose is a big thing.
You have been crucial in developing the Elite program at King's. What is it and how did it come about for you to put it in place?
The elite programme at King’s is recently founded, providing opportunities and investment in student athletes who compete at international levels. This bridges the gap for athletes at King’s, which is traditionally academically-focused, to still be able to gain the support which a more sports-focused university would bring. Putting this in place has been a challenging process but very successful. The problem we face is that as a department, King’s Sport, objectives in sport are high…but we are no Bath or Loughborough. We have a training facility which holds 1,300 members in comparison to Bath’s 10,000 and the high majority of funding goes to academic studies which means that it is the quality and care of coaching that we as a department must emphasise. The department aims to create a strong community of students, teams and athletes who are proud to represent King’s College London and appreciate the support of the professionals at King’s Sport.
Culture is something I come back to in a lot of #coachingconversations . How important do you think it is for these athletes at King's to be part of the King's Sport culture and branding?
It is great to be a part of a collective idea. With King’s Sport, it is the first year the university has properly committed to sport and to its athletes. Being part of the King’s Sport brand at this level makes them feel more supported; they no-longer just competing as an athlete for themselves but as a King’s Sport Elite athlete, training amongst GB sprinters and England hockey players, and collectively aiding the university to join the TOP 30 in the UK.
How has it been getting the Elites to buy-in to the extra S&C that you are able to offer - especially given you are competing for their time against training (sport), academics and social life?
80% of the elites love to train, love their sport and have an absolute drive to improve. Showing them where they are weak and how they can improve, in very clear and easily measurable ways, is more than enough motivation. When they actually see these improvements first hand, motivation only gets stronger. Academic issues can be tough in regards to time management; elites who study medicine or midwifery will undoubtedly have to reduce their time allocated to training and unfortunately may see a reduction in performance as a result. These same students often have alternating night shifts where their hormonal rhythms will be completely destroyed, leaving their training gains and energy levels comparatively low.
In regards to their own sport, as long as injury prevention is a key component to the programme, the individual will be able to maintain their sport specific training for sustained phases without stopping due to overuse or injury. This alone will progress their performance even if strength does not.
In some cases the Elites have external coaches that they work with - has there been much co-ordination with these coaches and are they willing to help share the load in improving the athlete?
Co-ordinating between coaches is a critical part to improve an athlete’s performance. The idea that two heads are better than one is still 100% accurate. The only issue in this industry is that many coaches will be very reluctant, especially at a high level, to give their master plan away. This can lead to a bit of a stalemate until you build a good rapport with them. When ideas clash, or a coach does not agree, then you must adapt or just prove the background support for what you are doing.
You work with elites from a variety of sports, many of which you have not competed in yourself - do you feel that sporting experience matters?
Yes, undoubtedly, but there are numerous transferable movement patterns to all sports. It is important to break down each sport into its fitness components and whether they are high priority or low priority for each specific movement skill. After looking at how each skill transfers force to reach its end objective, the basics can be found and trained. The only distinct difference would be if the sport is patterned or reactive. Patterned would be a sprinter or golfer and will generate force in a set way. Reactive is an open environment whereby the force you need to produce in a set skill is ever changing and never the same.
As an S&C coach, how do you seek to improve your own knowledge and experience? Have you been on any courses that you have found to be highly beneficial and would recommend?
Courses, internet and books. In my opinion, even if you only take one small point then you have still improved. The real way to improve is to put yourself into new situations outside of your comfort zone, which forces you to adapt and improve. I have trained in rugby for many years and know the sport very well, thus making training individuals for this relatively straightforward. It is when a taekwondo athlete comes in and needs to improve box splits, or a basketball player has a nagging knee pain which has been plaguing her all her life, that you are forced to do the research and use a little trial and error to improve and grow your own knowledge as to what works and what doesn't.