Developing as an experienced strength and conditioning coach isn’t always that easy. Yes, there are hundreds of seminars and courses to go on, but here’s the thing, so many of them parrot the same old information. No new data, no new insights, no unique or illuminating comparisons. Just another dry AF presentation on a periodisation model that fundamentally hasn’t changed for about 50 years!
So, when it happens that I come across a knowledge source that intrigues me (even if they’re outside the performance sport/S&C world) and gets me thinking about my own practice differently, I pay attention.
Here are 6 ways that the team at Renaissance Periodization, Dr Mike Israetel, and the Team Full ROM gang (Jared Feather and Charly Joung) have changed my strength and conditioning practices.
- 1) Far Greater Technique Focus
- 2) Volume Terminology Provides a Language to Express Training Volumes to Athletes (And other stakeholders)
- 3) I’ve Harnessed the Power of Analogy
- 4) A Much Broader Approach to Off-Season Hypertrophy
- 5) Steelman Accountability
- 6) It’s Okay to Inject (Some Personality Into Your Coaching)
- Bonus Content: The 1 Thing I Disagree with RP and Dr Mike On
- Next Steps
1) Far Greater Technique Focus
If there’s one key thing that I’ve picked up from RP, Dr Mike and the Team Full ROM crew, it’s the importance of technique focus.
Now, as someone who’s been coaching for the past 8+ years, that sounds like a somewhat odd thing to say, as I’ve always paid attention to technique. However, in a dynamic, multi-person strength and conditioning session, ‘good technique’ often means safe, effective and for the most part not hideous to look at.
What’s more, when you combine:
A) highly competitive athletes with
B) highly competitive environments in which
C) beating prior performances is so highly prioritised
It’s easy for “beating the reps/weight” to become the overwhelming, unintended focus.
The RP/Team ROM crew (especially Jared Feather) have in essence reminded me of, or helped me re-prioritise, the value of excellent exercise technique. Focussing on the movement, thinking about how it should feel and where it should be felt, and having specific technique cues in mind now take priority in my strength and conditioning sessions.
And yes, it takes more time, and yes we often get less total work done as a result, but the higher quality of that work often means my athletes are getting far more stimulus per set (more bang for their buck if you will) which also has fantastic positive implications from a fatigue and recovery standpoint.
2) Volume Terminology Provides a Language to Express Training Volumes to Athletes (And other stakeholders)
Some athletes fundamentally just want to be told what to do and couldn’t really care less about the mechanics and science of training. Some athletes, however, truly want to understand what they’re doing and why they’re doing it on a deeper, more conceptual level.
As a coach, this presents an obstacle, because the underpinning science is often quite complex, quite boring, and quite difficult to explain within the confines of a dynamic strength and conditioning session. If I’ve got 20 athletes squatting, lunging and jumping to look after, I probably don’t have 15 minutes to deep dive into sports science.
That’s where the MV, MEV, MAV and MRV terminology comes in clutch. It provides an easy and accessible way to explain to an athlete or stakeholder (maybe a sports coach without much S&C knowledge) why they’re doing the amount of training that they’re doing and makes it really easy to link that in their mind to a specific phase. For example:
“We’re in-season, and you need to be fresh for your match in 3 days, so we’re just doing maintenance volume today”
“Alright, it’s off season, we’ve got no other demands, so we’re going to be pushing up towards maximal recoverable volume.”
3) I’ve Harnessed the Power of Analogy
As a geeky, socially introverted kind of guy, communicating the thoughts in my head to the rest of the world is kinda difficult at times (that’s why I write a blog, duh) Now, this is a skill that I’ve worked on A LOT over the years, to the point where I’m pretty damn confident lecturing, delivering seminars etc.
But there’s something special about the analogy for gripping an audience. It turns dry, inaccessible content into something fun and engaging, and after seeing Mike using it so successfully, the analogy has become a mainstay in my content delivery.
If 8 years ago my presentation skills were a beat-up old banger of a car, 2 years ago they were a Honda Jazz (reliable, consistent yet sorta boring) today they’re more like a Lamborghini. Well, maybe not a Lamborghini, I don’t think I’ll ever have that level of loud Italian charisma, but perhaps more like a Honda Jazz with some ‘go-faster’ stripes painted down the side, or maybe something like a BMW or Mercedes, still reliable, still consistent, but you can open up the throttle every now and again.
You get it.
4) A Much Broader Approach to Off-Season Hypertrophy
Typically, off-season hypertrophy within strength and conditioning, especially for sports like Rugby, American Football etc, means having your athletes perform 5 sets of 10 reps in big compound exercises like the squat, bench press and barbell row. Not necessarily a bad way to go, but pretty far from optimal as far as catering for individual SFR’s.
Moreover, the prevailing logic within sports performance for the most part is that you want to keep reps under 10, so as to avoid excessive physiological changes in undesirable directions. Here’s the thing though, personally, I’ve always felt that this issue was overstated. I’ve seen guys that are big, fast and explosive perform sets of 20-30 reps and still remain big fast and explosive. I’ve seen guys that are naturally less fast, less big and less explosive train exclusively sets of 3-6 reps and not see any huge improvements. In my mind, genetics is by far the biggest determining factor.
This leads me to consider, is it worth straying further from what classes as the ‘ideal’ physiological adaptation, if it allows us to maximise hypertrophy? By which I mean:
- Using a much wider variety of exercises based on individual SFR’s.
- Using a much wider rep scheme (5-30 vs 5-10)
- Using autoregulated set numbers instead of coach-picked numbers
So far, I’ve tried all three of these approaches with significantly positive impacts, both in terms of hypertrophy and in longer-term performance outcomes. In fact, I’ve observed 4 main things:
- By incorporating a few “heavier” (5-10 rep) sets and a few power exercises, the potential downsides of “lighter” (10-30 rep) work seem to be almost if not entirely mitigated.
- Given the choice, athletes who were naturally strong and powerful tended to gravitate towards the big compound exercises with lower reps anyway, because they tended to have good SFR’s and grow really well on them. Moreover, in the instances where they did make substitutions, e.g. DB rows instead of barbell rows, they saved themselves a lot of systemic fatigue (which made me think of Charly Joung mentioning how he could easily wreck himself by pushing too hard)
- Athletes that didn’t respond well to lower rep compound exercises saw significantly better progress using the wider variety method.
- Anonymous feedback forms saw increased athlete training enjoyment and motivation, which tends to lead to better adherence and better performance.
Plus, a final consideration, if I can have my less naturally gifted athletes gain something like 7.5% bodyweight in a 15-week off-season, versus struggling to gain 1-2% bodyweight, who in the heck cares if those gains are slightly less physiologically ideal? Do you think a 185lb rugby player is going to pick himself up after being body slammed by a 220lb beast of a man and say “well at least I’m more neurologically efficient.” I don’t see it.
My thoughts might change and grow and evolve on this, but right now, this newer approach is showing real promise.
5) Steelman Accountability
As coaches we often talk about being ‘evidence-based,’ yet in reality we all have our own biases and implicit assumptions.
- Exercise A obviously provides this specific stimulus
- XYZ combination of sets and reps is optimal for the said outcome
- Performing exercise B this way is better than that way
The sheer detail of topic exploration and nuance within RP and Dr Mike’s content, books, articles and podcasts, really stopped and made me think about my own practice as a strength and conditioning coach. When I give advice or design a programme, can I say with certainty that it reflects industry best practices? Or am I drawing on anecdotal information when better data is available?
Today, I try to make it a real personal practice to steelman (or ‘shit-test) my own ideas, to ask difficult questions and see if they stand up against the heat. More often than not they absolutely do (I do have a Masters and I’m pursuing a PhD in this stuff, so I’m not exactly a dummy) but there’s still the odd occasion in which the idea doesn’t hold up, and a visit to the literature is in order.
6) It’s Okay to Inject (Some Personality Into Your Coaching)
Ahhh, you see, I did a pun.
I think this last point is also a lot to do with experience and confidence, but I’d be lying if I said Mike and RP YouTube content especially hasn’t been influential.
Strength and conditioning is a weird world. The general culture is one of hard work and stoicism. Conversations tend to be “motivational” or ‘hustle’ based, or simply organisational and logistical. There’s not much room for personality or genuine expression. Worse still, when you have sports coaches that take their roles WAY too seriously, it also leaves surprisingly little room for humour.
A little side note here: Sports coaches often have some of the absolute WORST attitudes and egos you’ll ever come across. It’s easy to forget when you’re so wrapped up in something, that it’s ultimately just kicking/throwing/hitting/chasing a ball from A to B. We’re not running into burning buildings, we’re not designing world-changing technology, if we mess up no-one dies on the operating table in front of us. Perspective people.
I digress, back to stoicism and the lack of personality in S&C. Seeing the growth of RP on YouTube, and seeing the amounts of positive feedback to Mike on Podcasts, led me to really start to realise the value that a bit of personality and authentic ‘self’ can add.
My coaching style over the last two years is so much more relaxed, and my relationships with athletes are much better for it. It is 100% possible to create a space that simultaneously allows for hard, focused work, alongside humour, discussion and personal connection.
Bonus Content: The 1 Thing I Disagree with RP and Dr Mike On
Maybe I’m just not yet ready to appreciate their majesty, but I can’t get on board with the croc as a lifting shoe. I’ll train in my weightlifting shoes for quad work, heck I’ll even train barefoot for hamstring, glute and upper work, but the crocs just ain’t for me. Not yet.
I stand to be proven wrong.
But that’s enough chatting for today
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3) And if you’re looking for 1:1 strength and conditioning coaching to improve your sports performance, you can find more information about my services here.
‘Til Next Time
Alex Parry, MSc, BA
Alex is the Head content writer and Coach at Character Strength & Conditioning, as well as an Assistant Lecturer and PhD Researcher at the University of Hull.
His experience includes 8+ years within professional strength and conditioning, as well as working as a tutor & educator for British Weightlifting.