If I had to start over today, where I would start? June 2015 Edition

Recently, I’ve been in discussions with people that I’m teaching, and they ask me “where did you get all this from?” I tend to shake my head, confused, because I don’t really know where I “got it all from”. I can usually point to the most recent people who have influenced my thought, or those with the most radical thoughts, but after that it’s all a blur of interconnecting information. Where did I start? When I was 12, I started with Peter Twist and his book, “Complete Conditioning for Ice Hockey”. I learned about carbohydrates, and plyometrics. I learned that Pavel Bure wasn’t fast, but had great acceleration. I subsequently went to Twist’s camps and trained using his system. Then when I was 16, for some reason, I decided I needed to learn more. So I went to the Chapters and into the “Sport” Section, and bought about $160 dollars worth of books: Agility Training, Boompa’s Periodization for Sport, Michael Boyle’s Functional Training for Young Athletes and Dr. Michael Colgan’s book on training. I’d say I actually did a pretty good job. Then I did my BCRPA Personal Trainer’s certification which involved a bunch of basic physiology and anatomy learning. After that point is when things start to get blurry. I started learning more and more, faster and faster, from disparate sources. I remember a few inflection points: one where I thought sport specific training methodology was the only methodology athletes should follow, then my perspective was bombarded by a Power Lifting makes you a better athlete perspective, then another where I began to consider the concept of general movement quality. Then, finally, my degree at UBC got interesting, and I began to consider the finer points of exercise physiology and functional anatomy. The next courses that made an impact were a cellular and molecular muscular physiology course, and a neuromechanics of human movement course. Finally rounding things out, was a student directed seminar I coordinated where a number of students got together and discussed current topics in the strength and conditioning field. Having the benefit of going through that winding, and confusing road for the past 13 years allows me to see where I could have shortcuted a few things, and gotten straight to the point in a few important areas. Along my road, there were times when it took considerable amounts of time and mental effort to sort through the very different perspectives of say Sport Specific training methodology and Power Lifting for athletic performance methodology. I know now the resources that can explain the differences and points of agreement between the two perspectives. So what are those resources? Where should you start? Well, there’s no perfect route. But I’m going to list a few resources in no particular order to sift through.

1. Pavel Tsatsouline (StrongFirst) Is Pavel perfect? No. But he distills very complex training principles into simple writings that are accessible to anyone. He also covers almost all bases when it comes to training, conditioning, core training, flexibility, and mobility. I would first look at “Power to the People” or “Easy Strength”. Specific to easy strength is the idea of the Four Quadrants, which helps sort out how you should view your training, resolving the “Sport Specific vs Powerlifting” dilemma I mentioned earlier.

2. Dr. Kelly Starrett (MobilityWOD) Now, is Kelly perfect? Nope. Are a lot of people going to disagree with him? Yes. It took me a while to get my head around the fact that he was a CrossFit guy. But his website is rife with knowledge gold nuggets on human movement, “adaptation errors” and how to fix them, posture, breathing, and mobility.

3. Dr. Stuart McGill Owner of the best moustache in the field, Dr. McGill ushered in the “core training” era. However, as many trainers do, they have watered down his concepts with their own bullshit. If you want to go straight to the source, and also understand “injury mechanisms” of the lower back, this is where you should start.

4. The Basics

No specific resource here. But know your anatomy and basic physiology. Like really know it. Buy yourself a couple of textbooks and learn. Sit down with them seriously.

You should also have a good understanding of neuromechanics of human movement and neural adaptations. I suggest Enoka’s Neuromechanics of Human Movement if you’re serious. It will dive deeper into many of the concepts explored by Pavel in his works.

Breath & posture: With its Eastern connotations, this may be seen as woowoo, but I promise at having a clear understanding of breath and posture leads to a clear understanding of movement through tension and relaxation. Here are a couple of resources: breathing and posture.

Periodization: Overtraining does exist. So does under training. The idea of periodization is to walk the fine line between the two. Start with Tudor Boompa’s work, and then explore other types: cybernetic, vertical integration, etc..

Recovery: Stay away from gimmicks at the start, and focus on the principles of recovery. People get caught up the muscular components of recovery, which are important, but I suggest that you should start with learning about the autonomous nervous system: sympathetic and parasympathetic. Look up and learn about heart rate variability and the vagus nerve.

5. Charlie Francis Ben Johnson’s trainer has also received his fair share of criticism. But I like his approach to conditioning and speed development.

6. Instagram Follow: Gymnastic Bodies, Dr. Andreo Spina, Rob Blackwell, Cal_Strength, UBC Strength & Conditioning.

In between selfies, and filtered skylines, make yourself better by following some useful Instagram accounts. Many of these accounts have good learning suggest in their posts. They’ll also provide links to other resources.

7. Psychology/Mindset “Mindset” by Caroline Dweck and “Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle. Start there if you haven’t already done so. I won’t say any more.

8. Ido Portal Not because I can do any of the wild and crazy movements he teaches, but because his way of thinking is a refreshing take on humanity and what we’re actually doing in the training environment.

This is not a comprehensive list, but it’s where I would start today. If I had to start over, I would want my perspectives to be coloured by the ideas found on this list.


Thoughts and Links for the Weekend – Lifestyle Training, Word Choices, Complaining, and Schedules

Here are some thoughts and links for the weekend to consider.

Effort applied over time (work) is something that Dan Millman (author of the Way of the Peaceful Warrior) extols in this podcast. So it had me thinking about ways that I do little things that add up over time. What little things can I add or change to make a big difference over time? Here are the resources I found, and here’s what popped into my head.

Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule by Paul Graham

The idea that the Maker, or the creative can have their creativity completely compromised if they have to adhere to a manager’s schedule. The manager’s schedule includes the idea of meetings, hourly scheduling and pragmatic planning. The maker, when faced with mid day meetings will avoid starting hard or ambitious projects if they know they have an impending meeting. On the other hand, when the maker is left unperturbed for an entire day, they are more likely to start projects that are difficult or ambitious. This blog post and research came from purposefully putting myself on the maker’s schedule. I removed myself from my normal day to day routine, and as such my mind expanded and asked questions like it rarely does when I know I have a group I need to train later in the day.

10 Most Common Words to Avoid by Tim Ferriss

I wanted to write an article on this a while back, but then I realized Tim already did it for me. I believe that speaking precisely requires precise thought. When thought is precise, rather than vague, goals and objectives can be clearly defined and more easily met. Two words to add to the list (inspired by Jeff Compton…and Laird Hamilton) are “try” and “can’t”. Tim’s words to avoid are vague and inspire judgment. Using the word “try” gives the user subconscious permission to fail at whatever they’re doing. Using the term “I haven’t yet” instead of “can’t” implies that effort and practice are required to achieve something, rather than it being impossible to achieve.

Ask Why Three Times by Jason Zook

To get to the root of difficult question, ask why three times. I find that athletes we train, and those we don’t, make decisions without much thought. They do so based on superficial variables; on how things seem rather than how they are. Many athletes will turn aside training opportunities with reasons like “I don’t have enough time”, “it’s too expensive”, or “I have schoolwork”. Asking why three times as described in the article may help to uncover the root of why someone is passing up opportunities and what they can do to instead take advantage of them. It also allows athletes to consider how they are spending their time.

Lifestyle Cardio

I always wonder about athletes, or people, who seemingly put in close to no effort with their training, but still have excellent cardiovascular endurance. I think part of it has to do with early training stimulus (sensitive period for cardio training), and genetics. But I also think it has something to do with lifestyle. As a rational S&C coach, my goal would be to control what I can control. And I could mostly control the work done by my athletes while they are under my supervision. But if the other 23 hours of the day, the athlete is engaged in counterproductive activities to their training, even the best designed program is useless. Obviously, strength & conditioning coaches then encourage their athletes to engage in optimal lifestyle choices such as getting enough sleep, eating well, etc.. What if coaches could also get athletes to improve their athletes’  cardiovascular training by adding a lifestyle cardiovascular component. i.e. meditative/refreshing jogs with natural sprints (Fartlek/Bruce Lee style), encourage thinking of manual labor positively, and do more low intensity exercise. Since I’ve stopped doing manual labor as my primary means of income like I did when I was younger, I am on the lookout for more ways to add methods of improving my cardiovascular fitness by adding lifestyle components, not included in my training. For example, Bruce Lee would explore a new city with a light jog first thing upon getting to that city. What habits could I set for myself like this? What habits could I suggest for my athletes?

Complaining and Blaming

The idea that complaining and blaming was destructive to our mental health was something I accepted. But after watching the video linked above, what stood out to me, was that when someone blames/complains, they are using up energy that should be used to hold the person/situation you are complaining/blaming accountable. Essentially, by complaining, you are making the situation worse for yourself psychologically, and also pragmatically because you don’t have as much energy to address the problem. Interesting thoughts.



What We’re Doing this Summer with Our Hockey Player and Why

Yesterday, I volunteered at my old high school to instruct some PE classes. Then I went to the gym and instructed our elite hockey players.

In both situations, I found myself explaining the same thing: cardio and interval training does not improve strength & power.

I found this odd. In my mind, it is ridiculously obvious that fatiguing your body is not the best way to increase speed and power. But obviously there is a disconnect between what I think is obvious, and what a younger generation thinks is obvious. This post is to address that disconnect:

The Path

In my mind, I have constructed a logic chain on how to develop strength and power that looks something like this:

  1. Teach athletes to move with proper movement patterns. These proper movement patterns should:
  2. Teach the athlete to be able to handle more load with proper movement patterns
  3. Teach athletes to move loads at higher speed, maintaining correct movement patterns
  4. Develop an athlete’s capacity to handle high loads, at high speed, while under fatigue

I find that athletes and parents associate fatigue, intensity and volume with workout value. Here’s the thing: anybody who can yell at athletes is capable of making people fatigued and sweaty. And yes, there is a chance that said person is going to develop the strength and power of their athlete. If they are really lucky, they’ll inherit an athlete with great movement mechanics and great work capacity, and that athlete will respond to that training, and will then go on to do well in fitness testing…thus “proving” the efficacy of the fatiguing, high intensity workout. The huge problem with this (and I know, because I’ve previously been the coach to prescribe high-intensity, fatiguing workout after high-intensity, fatiguing workout), is that the players who don’t move well and are not able to adapt to the increased workload, well, they get left behind. They just “aren’t working as hard as those other guys”.

If we go back and look at point #1 (Teach athletes to move with proper movement patterns), there is a new challenge for coaches with today’s athletes. I have noticed that there are less and less multi-sport, natural athletes. As a result, I’m inheriting athletes who might be excellent hockey players, but lack BASIC HUMAN MOVEMENT. The main problems I see with young hockey players is that their hips are so tight, that they have to their knees and spine to generate their movement. Of course, the hips are capable of generating much more power than both the knee joint and the spinal muscles combined, so players with tight hips are leaving a lot of strength and power generation on the table if they are not correctly moving their hips. And simply put, we cannot train the athletes to properly move their hips if they do not have the mobility to do so.

Someone might tell me that by doing squats, deadlifts and lunges you can fix this problem. I’d agree, but only if the athletes are doing squats, deadlifts and lunges like they are meant to be performed by the body. Again, the tight hips often prevent squats, deadlifts and lunges from being performed properly, so the body learns and reinforces sloppy movement mechanics. Under fatigue, this problem gets even worse because the body is already not using its most effective and efficient muscles, so now those muscles start failing and recruiting even less effective and efficient muscles.

For me, I cannot in any sort of good faith condone or prescribe consistent workouts that do not first address movement quality. I believe it would be negligent of me to do so. Of course, I do not believe that athletes should not be placed in challenging and fatiguing situations to prepare them for camps. But this type of work should be done with conscious attention towards minimizing risk, and it does not need to be done all the time. Furthermore, I of course believe in developing a high aerobic and anaerobic capacity in our athletes, but there are more effective ways of improving that specific capacity than running them into the ground every day.

Measurement and Value

Like I mentioned, fatigue is often associated with the value of a workout. Let’s please change that.

I can understand that void of any other metric, valuing a workout by the amount of fatigue it generates is a very reasonable thing to do. And I can also imagine that if a trainer is not actually wanting to put a lot of thought into how their workouts make on ice contributions, then they’ll want you to think that fatigue is a useful value measuring stick.

What metrics actually matter? Some will say that a strength and conditioning coach should only worry about the fitness variables they can effect. So they will tell you they have improved the athlete if they improved their squat weight, their bench weight, their clean weight, their broad jump, and some measure of aerobic capacity. Others use those metrics as well, but also consider their role to be to help the athlete in their sport. They may take a bit of emphasis off of the bench, squat, clean, jump and VO2, and spend a bit more time and effort trying to translate or transfer the skills to the sport.

I fall into the second camp. Not radically so. I believe that improvements in athletic movement principles (needed for hockey) will manifest themselves in improved lifts, jumps, sprints, and aerobic tests. Therefore, those tests may provide an indicator as a proxy for improved sport performance. The reason that I fall into the second camp is because I am in (what I think is) a fairly unique position of having almost amassed my 10,000 coaching hours (I’ve been coaching for about the last 9 years consistently) and also having amassed my 10,000 hockey playing hours, meanwhile I’ve studied Kinesiology. Because I am also continuing to play while doing all this, I’d say that I am very in touch with the process of what it takes to get better. I’ve made committed almost every mistake by enthusiastically following every person who has a claim that they can help improve my game. I have ruthlessly thrown aside any and every method that does not provide immediate and lasting results. I’m also 100% in touch with the demands of the athlete, and the psychology of the athlete. So I remember the days when I crushed a fatiguing workout, went to the farm to work and pushed a lawn mower and carried a weed whacker and didn’t have time or energy to develop my skills. I remember dropping 400lbs on my back in a back squat with incorrectly adjusted spot arms and no spotter. I remember lunging around my backyard with a friend (who never worked out with me again), for 2 hours, and then not being able to walk for a week (my mom literally carried me up and down the stairs…embarrassing for a 12 year old).

After almost 20 years of hockey, I’ve realized that the most valuable physical skills I learned were actually very different than what a strength & conditioning coach might suggest. They are:

  • Not to tense up in pressure situations.
  • Not to “try” too hard. Give 100% intensity instead.
  • Not to tense muscles that are not immediately involved in performing the skill.
  • Generate and receive contact through the core.
  • Learn to generate elasticity through the core on shots and passes.
  • Don’t bend your knees too much, use your hips to generate power.
  • Under fatigue, stay calm, breathe deeply.
  • Correct posture (shoulders, pelvic alignment, ribcage alignment) matters as much to physical performance as it does to psychological performance.

All of these things are movement quality related. They were sprinkled throughout my career, with many of them only coming into crystal clear focus very recently. Disappointing, then, that all the fatiguing workouts I did never taught me those things. Some I learned when I used to play the violin, others I learned through martial arts, golf and soccer. A few teammates have given me pointers on others. The rest I learned by researching information  from the best minds in sports and strength and conditioning.

Of course, I’m now also blessed with great aerobic capacity, strength and power. While these occurred as a result of my training, I still believe that my training was not the most efficient way of improving all of those things. For example, I learned that I didn’t actually need to lift as much volume as I thought I did. I also wish I had adopted a different running style when I was back racing, as that would have made running so much more enjoyable. In any case, all of this was a valuable learning experience because I can now do a lot more with a lot less time and energy.

So what are we doing this summer? We are trying to boil down 20 years of my enthusiastic pursuit of excellence through training into one summer. We are drawing the straightest line through the sand. I’m hoping it can help everyone we are training get better faster.

Joe DeFranco’s Limber 11

Here’s a great idea from a well known trainer in New Jersey: The Limber 11. (Tim Ferris calls him the trainer of NFL Monsters)

I like a lot of these mobility and release exercises and definitely recommend them to hockey players. In the next few weeks, I think I’ll do my own version specifically for hockey players. In the meantime try these out to keep yourself nice and limber.


Tight vs Loose: What’s your set point?

I’m currently in playoffs, and I’m seeing a lot of tight bodies on my team. I’m seeing players going to trainers with sore backs, or sore hips, or sore shoulder. The most common thing that they say is “I’m tight”. I’m finding it a battle myself to keep all my tissues loose and relaxed with so much game play. 

In this article, I want to talk about the benefits and costs of having your muscles have a set point that’s loose vs tight.

Continue reading Tight vs Loose: What’s your set point?


I was inspired to write this post after meeting some family in Winnipeg. One of my cousins that I’d never met before turns out to be quite a hockey player, and we chatted a bit about why I do what I do after my own games. While I share my guidelines for recovery with my clients in the summer time, I wanted to write a blog post to put down my latest thoughts on an important subject: recovery. This article will have a broad scope because I’m going to talk about my thoughts on recovery in general, and also my specific habits that I engage in to aid my recovery after games and practices.

Continue reading Recovery