The Strength & Conditioning Compass – Developing Your Philosophy

Yesterday I posted the following quote to facebook:

If you are a strength coach and you are more worried about learning RT1 (for those that don’t know what RT1 means HERE is a video) than you are about learning how to develop the overall physiological capacity of your athletes, you are probably doing something wrong. Don’t be a back door rehab professional, trying to “fix” people. Embrace the strength coach profession and learn how to develop athletes. Just my opinion.

This created quite a lengthy discussion from folks regarding the role of strength and conditioning, scope of practice, etc. I think many people missed the point of the post, which was more about the state of strength and conditioning in this country and how most strength coaches are so focused on being pseudo-physical therapists than they are developing the athlete’s physiological abilities, which should be their goal – physiological development and injury prevention.

Within the discussion I explained that a big issue is that people tend to get swept away with all of the courses that are so focused on the movement aspects of things (mobility, “corrective exercise”, etc). They forget that there is a whole other side to athletic development. Part of the reason I think this happens is that folks lack a true professional compass. Something that helps guide their path and keep them centered. What I’m referring to here is a philosophy. Most strength coaches, when asked about their philosophy end up either explaining their weekly template (“We use a Westside BB type template with max effort dynamic effort, and repetitive effort work” or, “We do a high-low training program like Charlie Francis”) or they begin listing exercises (“We are a bench, squat, chin up type program” or, “We like Olympic lifting and single leg work”). Of course all of these things are just fine but they don’t answer the question, “What is your philosophy?” Don’t tell me what you do. Tell me how you think! Tell me what is important to you and then tell me how you go about evaluating, monitoring, and improving it.

Several years ago I wrote down my strength and conditioning philosophy. Basically, it was a document that explained the things that are important to me as a strength coach. It articulated why I feel these things are important and how I go about quantifying them. Of course, as I grow and learn more, the philosophy changes and grows as well, but the big rocks stay the same.  I would hope that every strength and conditioning coach takes the time to write down their philosophy. In fact, no matter what you do in this profession, it makes sense to sit down and write out your philosophy. If you are an athletic trainer, physical therapist, or chiropractor, what is your rehab philosophy? How do you go about your work? This process is critical because it allows you to focus your compass, understand what you believe in, and understand where you may need to get better and improve. Oftentimes we tend to be so focused on one or two things that we forget about all the other stuff that we can be studying to make ourselves better (hence the reason for my facebook post). Additionally, people who don’t have a compass usually attend continuing education courses and leave saying, “I knew that. I already do that stuff.” But when you see what they are doing they aren’t doing ANYTHING LIKE THAT!! They may know the information but they have not built it into a system that allows them to use it in a very specific manner. They tend to be all over the map. Having a philosophy will keep you focused and, more importantly, guarantee you a certain level of success with all of the athletes you work with.

My Philosophy

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The three big rocks of my philosophy are movement, stress, and fitness. I can’t say that any one component is more important than the other. However, I do put stress at the top of the pyramid because if the athlete lacks the ability to tolerate and adapt to stress in a positive way it will drastically impact their movement capabilities and their overall fitness level. Basically, they wont be able to tolerate the stress of training.

Unpacking each of these components:

  • Movement -  This refers to the athlete’s ability to produce movement that satisfies the needs and demands of their sport. Do they have adequate joint ranges of motion? Can they move freely in all three planes of motion? Can they move effortlessly or are they always fighting against themselves (IE, are they stiff, tight, and bound up)? Movement is tested in a variety of ways. We evaluate it with joint range of motion testing, Functional Movement Screen (I know that it is a polarizing topic. Of course, you can use any movement screen or movement evaluation that you want here), and sports tasks (evaluation of sprinting, jumping, landing, cutting, etc).
  • Fitness – This represents the athlete’s overall fitness level. Do they have a basic fitness level that has been developed over the years by being exposed to various modes of training, various sports and sporting movements, etc? Do they have the fitness capacity to satisfy the needs and demands of the sport and/or their position within that sport? Are they lacking in some area of fitness (strength, power, conditioning, etc) that needs to be improved?
  • Stress – Finally, stress refers to the athletes ability to tolerate and resist stress. How well does the athlete adapt? How much training can the athlete tolerate? How well does the athlete thrive in the chaotic nature of sport? Stress is measured in a variety of different ways. We can look at their overall wellness, nutrition program, sleep habits, heart rate variability, etc.

To sum the rocks of my philosophy up:

“I don’t like to prescribe exercises if I don’t know how someone moves. I don’t like to prescribe training methods if I don’t know someone’s initial fitness level, where they are at, and where they need to go. And I don’t like to prescribe a training program without having an understanding of how the person adapts to it.”

Taking this approach has allowed me to build a system that focuses on these big rocks, the things I feel are most important, so that I can develop ways of testing, monitoring, and training them.

Wrapping Up

Don’t just focus on one component – sort of like we tell our young athletes to not specialize. I don’t think there is anything wrong with spending time studying movement approaches. I have gotten a ton out of Functional Movement Systems, PRI, DNS, and various massage therapy courses. They have allowed me to look at the body and recognize patterns that I can then focus on within the training program via exercise selection and specifically scripted warm ups. But please remember, these are only one piece of the pie. There is a whole other world out there in the realm of physiology and athletic development. The courses I listed above are relatively accessible and popular and thus make them easier for people to wrap their heads around. The other stuff is not. I get emails weekly from people saying they take all these courses, and the courses form the basis of their training approach, but they want to learn more about energy system development, they aren’t sure where to start to learn about it, and they don’t know how it will fit into their training approach. Honestly, a good exercise physiology book and pubmed would be a great place to start! There is so much information out there on this topic. You just need to be committed to spending time and learning it. The individual recognizes a gap in their learning but they have not created a philosophy that allows them to fill that gap and figure out where this stuff will fit in.  Weekend courses are helpful because we are force fed information. But why rely on other people to tell you how to think? Get to work writing your own philosophy down and perhaps you can come up with something interesting that embraces a bunch of different concepts that others have not thought about.

2 thoughts on “The Strength & Conditioning Compass – Developing Your Philosophy

  1. simon strawhorn

    Thanks for the thoughts Patrick.

    After 16 years in practice I still find it interesting to see what patients respond to. Practitioner (I am a chiro) confidence is huge, and striking a balance between humility and leadership of a case is important.

    I am an Aussie, currently based in Phoenix. Where did you start optimum sports performance here? Is it still going?

    Sincerely,

    Simon Strawhorn.

    Reply
    1. Patrick Post author

      Thank you, Simon.

      The facility was in Tempe. I moved from there in 2012, so it is no longer open.

      patrick

      Reply

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