It’s All About Me

Posted By peakfitness / August, 27, 2013 / 0 comments

I’m kind of a big deal, people know me….

When I first started out as a trainer, I had all the answers and very few questions. There wasn’t a gym I couldn’t walk into and within 5 mins of observing another trainer come to a comprehensive conclusion about everything they were doing wrong. As that’s all the time you need to watch someone else work, just 5 mins and you’ve seen all there is to see, you know exactly what they’re doing and why from that snapshot – right? I’d read magazine articles with some sweeping generalised statements about training and immediately dismiss that trainer is incompetent, as of course they should be able to get across their entire performance paradigm in just 600 words. Even Premiership football teams were not safe from my all knowing and all seeing eye, watching players warm up pitch side doing what I deemed outdated and ineffective drills – as that 10 secs was all I needed to draw my opinion. I was right, everyone else was wrong and I’d seen what I needed to see.

I was 25 years old, and after 9 years serving in the military I assumed I was fairly worldly wise – but looking back now, my total lack of respect for other people’s ‘map of the world’ makes me cringe. We’ve all done it, and even now I find myself slipping back into it. We like to think we don’t judge, but watching someone else work it’s maybe human nature to immediately start judging them, how crap their session is and how much better you’d do it. The plain fact is you have no context, you have no idea ‘why’ they are doing what they’re doing or what series of events lead them to deliver what they are delivering. Back then it wasn’t just hands on training I was critical of, there wasn’t a subject, methodology or rationale that I didn’t have an opinion on. I was willing to wade into anyone and anything whilst operating on my default setting that I knew all I needed to know based on a tiny snapshot of what someone was doing or saying. All the answers, no questions.

The slide is for Taylor

The work market plays it’s part, it’s a point of difference that you know better than someone else and therefore should have the work. Equally training and education providers can also play their part in this process, if you do a course and you’re constantly being told that the education you’re being provided with is THE way – it’s understandable you’ll take that attitude out into the world. You come out of the other end of this process thinking you have an enormous map of the performance world eager to implement your ideas as of course no one has tried before what you’re talking about…apart from just about everyone that has gone before you.

If you want to be successful as a coach, you need to measure yourself by the team you surround yourself with – not by being master of the universe by knowing everything yourself and operating on the default setting everyone else is probably wrong. I’m now (almost…) 41 years old and have been extraordinarily lucky with not only the athlete’s I’ve worked with, but the performance specialists I’ve been exposed to and able to work with. If you don’t know something, then say so – athlete’s and clients are coming to you for a solution and it’s down to you to provide that solution. That doesn’t mean it’s all about you – by seeking out other experts and building your own network, you can ensure you get a positive outcome with whoever you’re working with. By insisting on doing everything yourself, you’re setting yourself up to limit what you’re capable of.

I have a huge network of performance practitioners I can tap into, from premiership football, premiership rugby and olympic sports. Medically I have a specialist surgeon per body part, and for physio therapy I use the ubiquitous Doug Jones. Doug isn’t some random physio I found locally working in private practice, he was head physio at Sale Sharks for many years before moving to London Wasps as head of medicine. Doug now works in private practice with Harris & Ross – point being he is massively experienced in dealing with progressive and aggressive methodologies for elite athletes. You have to seek out the experts who can help you achieve positive results with whoever you’re working with. You will gain much more respect as a practitioner if you facilitate expert advice, that athlete or client will go away talking about how ‘you’ sorted them out, you’re the person to go to as you know all the right people.

If you look at all successful coaches they are surrounded by a network of top specialists. In my case particular I ensure that everyone I surround myself with is way better than I am. I measure myself on the quality of my network, not what I know myself. It’s not about me, what I think I know or how clever I think I am – it’s about the person you’re trying to help. It’s about their needs and the outcome they need – not mine. The other key message is respect other people’s map of the world, you don’t know the full details of why a trainer or coach is doing what they’re doing. A basic glute bridge isn’t going to bring about massive glute adaptations in anyone, or basic plank send their trunk strength through the roof. However if that athlete is just 4 weeks post spinal fracture with significant internal fixation, no control over their pelvis and poor trunk control – it’s a start. A picture and 10 word description maybe doesn’t explain the length, breadth and depth of what is happening – so don’t assume it does. Try and be as open minded as possible, as what you’ve read in a book or been on a course about might not actually be THE way things are, but simply ‘a’ way.

  • It’s not about you
  • Be open minded
  • Respect other people’s map of the world
  • Build your expert team, you can’t know everything
  • Assumption is the mother to all f**k ups, so don’t assume anything
  • Accepted paradigm is the way it is now, things change so be prepared to adapt
  • Learn, don’t copy
  • Seek out subject matter experts and learn directly from them
  • Never stop learning

I’m saying this as I’ve made all the mistakes, tried to do everything myself and totally disrespected everyone else’s map of the world. Every athlete I’ve worked with has contradicted what I thought I knew. 16 years on, I’m still learning, still being surprised and now old enough to see methodologies coming around for the second time. Quite often I’m not sure if I even know a good way to do anything anymore! However, by having a great team around me and extraordinarily challenging athletes to work with – I get there in the end…

Tick Tock – Beat The Clock

Posted By peakfitness / August, 20, 2013 / 0 comments

0.5 seconds – what is it? To the naked eye a reaction time of 0.1 secs is almost instantaneous, it’s in fact the limit of what’s deemed possible in a human reaction. In a 100m sprint race if you leave the blocks less than 0.1 secs after the gun you’re deemed to have false started because it’s just simply impossible to react faster than that.

0.5 secs is similar to my attention span in a sports science heavy presentation. My missus would say it’s the amount of time it takes me to forget what she’s told me. I would say it’s the amount of time a Red Bull athlete remembers what I’ve told them or the time it takes them to do the opposite of what I’ve just said.

In the film ‘Any Given Sunday’ about an NFL team, Al Pacino delivers a genuinely inspiring speech to his players before playing in a deciding game. In it he talks about seconds and inches, half a second too late or half a yard too short and you lose the game – the fight to claw those seconds and inches back to win the game. We’re surrounded by these fractions of seconds, they’re everywhere – just sat there waiting to be lost or gained by whoever they’re important to.

If you’re traveling at 40kph, 0.5 secs is about a DH bike length – just a single bike length. Think about that over a world cup DH run, where would that bike length be found? Every rock, turn, root, pedal stroke, slight slip on the front or back, the slightest hesitation, just thinking about dabbing your foot but not actually doing it. Or is it even wider than that? A turn or two on the suspension set up, tyre choice, pressures? Or wider still – couple of days missed practice, testing, training, hours of missed sleep, not quite ate the right food. The more you look at it 5/10ths of a second seem to be lying around in abundance – waiting to be grabbed.

Half a second was the difference between being 2012 UCI Elite Men World Champion and not. Of course there are events outside of your control, like a brake lever snapping. But still, seems to me there are seconds and inches everywhere I look, add them together and it’s more than 0.5 secs. Add them together and that bike length is closed – the rainbow stripes taken. British Cycling seem to have coined the phrase ‘aggregation of marginal gains’. However some of us in performance have known for a long time that by doing the ordinary extraordinarily well, you’ll scoop up these errant fractions of seconds that no one else wants. Your consistency and attention to detail will hoover them up, leaving none for anyone else. With races and championships now being decided within these fractions, can any elite afford to just leave them lying around anymore?

The wife has just told me something significant and important regarding tonights dinner which I’ve been left in charge of before she went out. This was over 0.5 secs ago. I’m now texting her to ask what she said….

Does That Come With Bacon?

Posted By peakfitness / August, 20, 2013 / 0 comments


Unlike my peers in the field of nutrition, I don’t have a degree in dietetics – my nutrition knowledge comes from 15 years of working with amazing athletes and practitioners. Sure, I’ve done nutrition courses and qualifications. But my time was spent seeking out science and asking why I was seeing the opposite to what the studies found, I spent a lot of time traveling the world speaking to professors in the field of nutrition. Everything I do as a performance practitioner is under-pinned by science, but it is not dictated by it. You can’t be innovative and breaking performance barriers if everything you do is based on what’s already known, the whole point of innovation is it’s ‘unknown’.


Looks paleo to me

One thing to make clear about sports science, it’s caused as many problems as it’s solved. I might have just pissed off a whole lot of people in the field saying that, but pissed off or not – its a fact. A ‘study’ into something and the result it gets is not definitive as you think. Has that study been replicated multiple times with the same result? How was the study performed? Who were the subjects? Science is looking for something called ‘statistical significance’ in it’s results, which means there is a clear result. Whereas for me at the edge of performance I’m happy with a ‘trend’ rather than some stand out obvious effect. It’s also important to understand the subjects taking part in these studies are either ill, or a student population group. I’ve actually seen an Msc study have it’s resulted skewed negatively because a few of the student footballer subjects got hammered the night before. Having studies done using elite athletes is difficult as there simply aren’t that many of them – the population group is very small, and they tend to be busy being pro sports people so don’t have time to commit to several weeks of being poked and prodded.


Seems like my kind of party

So with that in mind it’s important to balance what you know happens in the field, with what science says happens under a microscope. Balancing that ‘appliance’ and ‘science’ is key with anything and everything to do with performance, including nutrition. My journey for nutrition knowledge involved seeking out the extremes, bodybuilders are the extreme of lean tissue growth and fat burning, ultra runners are the extreme of endurance. NFL players, premiership rugby players, footballers – I saw them all, looked at what they were doing and what effect it had. I don’t mean I read books about it, I physically went to see them and what they were doing. I didn’t just look either, I threw myself into the different training regimes and diet plans of bodybuilders to see how it affected me, ballooning to 100kgs and able to bench press small houses but with the aerobic capacity of a house! Equally on the endurance side, dropping down to 79kgs and doing 5 Ironman triathlons. I was no pro athlete, but someone once told me never to ask someone to do something you’re not prepared to do yourself – and if you look like you need to take you’re own advice, how credible are you? Plenty of porky nutritionists out there who get out of breath walking up stairs (that’s actually me currently!). I’ve always put myself in the athletes position, empathy is key to connecting with an athlete.

I’ve been lucky enough to try my ideas out on premiership footballers and rugby players, including many international players who are household names.  When working with elite athletes in premiership football or rugby it’s important to respect their map of the performance nutrition world.  Obviously they’ve been receiving advice for many years before I came along, so to dismiss what they’ve been told before is foolish. Every person they’ve seen before I came along has tried to sell them their ideas as ‘the best’ so after several years of this cycle it’s understandable players are sceptical when yet another new practitioner arrives due the staff change circus in sport. They are also prone to the same goals everyone else is, they want to look good on the beach! So they can be more concerned with a diet which is about fat loss than a diet geared towards performance – as they are two very different things.

Just as with training, a programme to look good on the beach isn’t going to benefit performance – form should always be a result of function. So a diet which depresses body fat as much as possible, might not be one that will help when trying to physically perform. My wife competed in figure competitions for a while, and whilst her body fat may have been extremely low she was also the most ‘unfit’ she’d ever been. No energy, totally weak and huge mood swings (more than usual..!). When dealing with collision sports like rugby, players need to be able to tolerate those impacts – so being well under 10% BF might mean they ‘look’ great, but might not be right in terms of performance. This is why the trend of training rugby players like olympic sprinters makes no sense to me. If you make a player as highly strung as a sprinter then don’t be surprised when they break down as often, ferraris aren’t meant to be used like diesel trucks. A discussion for another time maybe.


Amy in 2010 – ripped, tired, unfit and weak.

Below is an extract from information I wrote for a premiership rugby team where I was nutritionist for 2 years – which I think sums up my rationale;

“Nutrition is a highly individualised aspect of performance, not only for each athlete but for the sport its relevant to. What works for a one ‘prop’ does not mean it will work for another, just as with a conditioning programme. Whilst performance nutrition should be highly individualised, there are some fundamentals that provide a foundation to move forward from. Without this foundation, performance nutrition simply fails – and becomes a series off ill advised and ineffective supplement based protocols seeking a short cut to performance which simply doesn’t exist.

After a short time as a professional athlete you should be aware of the basics to get the most out of the adaptations from training, the fuelling for performance and recovery – built on a basic knowledge of what to eat. Unfortunately in the 21st century in sport we exist in a world where someone has to tell you what to eat, which when you step back and look at it seems ridiculous – because it is. The role which should be filled by parents/grandparents has largely be junked in favour of sports scientists and supplements. The problem with this is that we forget what the basic good varied diet is supposed to be.”

My opening gambit with the players was to tell them how stupid my role was! Just to be clear, I’m a huge fan of quality supplementation with athletes and weekend warriors. Supplementation is a vital part of any athletes performance nutrition armoury – but only when it’s built on a very solid base good diet with food from the table.

So what is ‘nutrition’ then? One of the definitions is, “Nutrition is the provision, to cells and organisms, of the materials necessary (in the form of food) to support life.” We will all have our own definition of what it means to us as individuals, and that’s the key – its a totally individual thing. As with anything you need to define your nutrition goal, is it to build or maintain lean mass, burn fat, be healthier or manipulate a performance? It’s usually all of the those goals with most people.

Whether an athlete or weekend warrior here’s some simple ideas to think about;

  • Ensure the food on your plate is as colourful as possible – this means the food is nutrient dense – the more colourful the better.
  • Eat a varied diet – eating the same plain bland thing over and over is not what we’re designed to do. We’re designed to eat a varied diet, and it’s also good for the soul as well as the body to eat many different foods.
  • Traditional food is good – whichever country your from, the traditional meals are actually good for you. It’s how we cook and prepare them that causes the problems. Traditional English cooked breakfast (which I encourage all athletes and anyone to eat) is a great meal to start the day. Might sound crazy, but just think about what it actually is – meat, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, a great colourful meal full of protein. It’s how we prepare it that causes problems when we fry it. Traditional English Sunday dinner is meat and lots of vegetables – seems like a nutrient dense varied meal to me.
  • Don’t buy food that lasts longer than you – anything a bacteria doesn’t want to eat probably isn’t good for you. So any food which appears immortal should be avoided.
  • Have protein with every meal – we tend to eat a very carb dominant diet in the west, when really we need to go the ‘meat and two veg’ route as my gran used to say. You can get the carbs you need in vegetables without having to have a plate full of pasta or rice. I’m not saying you should never eat those foods, and we all enjoy a good pasta dish. But moderation is key
  • Have a day off – just as with training you need to give yourself a break. We don’t just eat food for fuel, it’s something to be enjoyed, its a social occasion or special occasions. Going to the Cheesecake Factory or In ‘n Out Burger might not be good for the body, but it’s good for the soul on a ‘treat’ day. Those two establishments have always been my only motivation to go to California training with athletes.
  • It’s a lifestyle choice – whatever you do and however you do it, it’s not about restrictive systems or the latest ‘hollywood’ diet – it will be a lifestyle choice.  Locking yourself into a super strict diet is fine if that’s how you want to live, but whatever you do it can’t be just about the next 5 day juice cleanse.  You have to fit your diet into your lifestyle and vice versa.  Make informed, sensible decisions which you can stick with day in day out as consistency with what you do will be a key to success.

Eating a balanced, varied and nutrient dense diet will get 90% of people and athletes to 90% of where they need to get to in health and body composition. Clearly and obviously there are some products and methods that can help athletes and people alike recover faster to get maximum adaptation to the training they’re doing and demands of competition.  However as mentioned, this needs to be done on a solid base of nutrient dense varied diet.


I’ve got my daughter to understand the importance of nutrition

It’s all about ‘paleo’ among a lot of people I know at the moment, i.e eating a Paleolithic diet, awakening your inner caveman (or woman) as our digestive systems are essentially 20,000 years old. Ultimately you do whatever works for you, but eating a balanced healthy colourful diet with plenty of lean meat and vegetables seems like common sense and not just something we did 20,000 years ago.

The subject is massive, controversial and highly individual. There are no secrets or shortcuts, it’s fairly straightforward – we just love to make it complicated. Now, it’s time for an In ‘n Out double double burger. With bacon.

We Can Rebuild Him….Again – Dan Atherton Part II

Posted By peakfitness / August, 18, 2013 / 0 comments

Dan starts his rehab – in the days before the operation.

If at all possible, you want to manage an injury conservatively – this means non surgically. No operation is completely without risk, and as soon as a surgeon puts a scalpel to an athlete there is no going back. Of course we mitigate against those risks by using the best surgeons with the best facilities, this reduces the risk to almost nothing. With Dan, surgery was unavoidable – the tears were not going to fix themselves. Another dislocation was going to result in more catastrophic damage along with a much more comprehensive surgical repair and the extended recovery time that goes with it.

Knowing this, Athy’s rehab started before he’d even had the operation. The goal is to ensure you head into theatre as strong and as fit as possible. Quite often athletes detrain for a period through inactivity because of injury – until the decision is made as to how to move forward. This means they are operated on in an already detrained state, meaning that post op they’re even more detrained which simply creates more work in the return to sport process. For Dan, he was smashed in the gym in the days before the operation.

Dan trains with me and pro skateboarder Korahn Gayle the day before his operation

A standard protocol for rehab from a Bankarts repair might look something like this;

  • 3 weeks – In a sling, keep wounds clean, active assisted movement in safe zone
  • 3-6 weeks – Wean off sling, progress active assisted range of movement, scapular stabilisation exercises
  • 6-12 weeks – Regain scapular control, increase ROM, strengthen, increase proprioception with open and closes chain exercises, sports specific training
  • 12-18 weeks – Staged return to sport

The plans of course are much more detailed than that – but broadly it will look something as described above. Dan is currently just 3 weeks post op, but he’s at week 6 on his rehab plan.

Clearly this is a massively accelerated programme – however that is what we’re experts in and what we’re here to do. Dan wants to return to fitness as soon as possible and that’s what we’re doing, but not unduly so. Something to explain now is ‘staged return to sport’, for athletes in teams sports like football & rugby this means playing in the reserves building match fitness. Then coming on for ‘x’ minutes in a first team game. For Athy, there is no reserve team or simply turning up to an enduro and only doing part of it. So myself and Alan Milway will have to be creative when it comes to the RTS part. End stage rehab and RTS is very tricky due to the volume and intensity – of course more on that when we get there.

At 2 1/2 weeks post op, Dan has a review with surgeon Dr Mike Walton and of course physio Doug Jones. We are pushing the limit of what’s possible in terms of timescales with Dan’s shoulder – but it’s being done under the strictest of supervision. Anyone trying to do this accelerated programme themselves would end up back in hospital
Getting Dan’s shoulder back under control and ensuring the muscles around his scapular are working

Receiving manipulation from Doug – pain!

Challenging Dan’s shoulder using an FKPro

Obviously there’s only so much you can do in a gym with rubber bands, which is why we also use things like an FKPro to challenge movement and build strength. There’s also another vital tool in the performance tool box to ensure Dan doesn’t detrain whilst working his shoulder – the pool. The pool is an underused and vital tool – it may seem like it’s a nice session to go and have a splash about. But it soon becomes a performance playground of pain and misery for the athlete!

The water allows Dan to use his whole body, without putting his whole bodyweight through his shoulder

We film as much as we can, to feedback to the athlete and also provide reference points to look back on and compare

Explosive plyometric jumps and simple leg kicks – try these yourself in a pool, they are not pleasant

Challenging the shoulders and trunk by maintaing a position in the water

As mentioned – this is an incredibly accelerated programme, due to the strictest of supervision and of course Dan’s peak physical condition pre-op. It may seem like we’re being overly aggressive, however we’re taking the utmost care not to overstep the mark and Dan’s feedback is vital in this. Dan is an incredibly experienced athlete, he knows his own body extremely well. He knows the difference between pain, muscles soreness or something else – so his feedback is absolutely vital. With a young and inexperienced athlete there is the danger of ‘under reporting’ – they’re in pain but don’t say anything or simply tell themselves to get on with it. Or they mistake the discomfort of healing and rehab as something else, so the training is backed off needlessly. Would we push so hard with a younger less experienced athlete? Maybe not, but we’d still be way ahead of the curve of a normal recovery time. Dan also has the perfect mindset for this type of thing, you tell him what to do and he follows it to the letter. Some athletes fall into the trap of doing a combination of what they like and what they think they should do – then wonder why they’re not improving. So with Athy we have a perfect storm of an athlete in excellent pre op physical condition, massive experience to feedback accurately, mindset of steel and of course a team around him to execute the accelerated rehab plan.

2 1/2 weeks post op – You’d be pushed to tell which is the op scar and which is a zit! The skill of surgeon Mike Walton

Every athlete is different, and every injury is unique to that athlete. However when an athlete commits to the process as Dan has, great things are possible. I’ve asked Team fitness coach Alan Milway to write up Dan’s training programme as if nothing is wrong with his shoulder. It’s better to write a normal training programme, which will need some tweaks than try and build a new programme from the ground up constantly thinking about his shoulder. With a normal training programme written, you’ll probably find 90% of it will remain unchanged. As I’m sat typing this at almost exactly the 3 week post op point, I know Athy is smashing himself on the turbo. From this point on, it doesn’t get easier – Athy just works harder and gets stronger….

In part III Dan gets on the pain train to Struggletown as more intense strength training kicks in….