Tim Ryan (info @ stronglifetraining.com) is a Master Super Slow instructor and the owner of Strong Life Personal Training in Barrington, Illinois. Aside from personal training, Tim offers mentoring, workshops, and seminars for studio owners.
In this episode, Tim joins me for another Q&A where he addresses how to strength train athletes, how to sell high intensity strength training to athletes, locking out on the MedX Chest press, using supports for MedX and Nautilus machines, and much more.
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- 3:31 – How to strength train athletes
- 16:45 – How to sell high intensity strength training to athletes
- 23:33 – Challenges of having a younger athlete demographics
- 30:02 – Identifying and discerning customer feedbacks
- 32:34 – Should you lock out on the MedX Chest Press?
- 40:31 – Tips for using foam/blocks for seat bolstering
Selected Links from the Episode
- Strong Life Personal Training
- Motor Learning
- Mario Kart
- 368 – The Six Factors of Functional Ability with Tim Ryan – The High Intensity Training Fundamentals Series – Part 8
- Shin Splints
- Dynamic Axial Resistance Device (DARD)
- Memory Foam
- Yoga Blocks
- Exercise Lumbar Machine
- Medical Lumbar Machine
- Torso Rotation/Rotary Torso
- Chest Press
- Leg Press
- Seated Leg Curl
- Leg Extension
This is part 3 of our Q&A with Tim (check out part 1 here and part 2 here), where we answer more of your questions.
How Should You Train Athletes?
Train them like you would anybody else, Tim says, with specific considerations for their sport or a particular athletic event they’re involved in.
With this in mind, Tim addressed functional training.
Is Functional Training Any Good?
Tim said that a lot of trainers believe that it is somehow necessary to craft an exercise program that mimics the mechanics of one’s sport or athletic events, and bluntly says that “this notion is completely backwards”.
He points out that the application of the skills involved with a sport or athletic event is a completely separate thing from the building of strength and physical conditioning of the body, and people mistakenly believe that the two should be combined.
The skills and athletic abilities are developed differently and in specific ways, and these are not associated with physical conditioning, but are more on the neurological side of things.
“The sports skills [are] more of a neurological based event, and it is acquisition of learning sort of the mind and muscle connection… this would fall under the purview of the scientific discipline known as motor learning,” Tim said. “And motor learning concerns itself with how human beings acquire skills and various abilities and become more skilled and more proficient at those activities. We know through that the science behind that is that those types of things are very, very specific. So, you need to practice, rehearse, refine your skill by practicing that skill and practicing it in a highly specific manner applied in the manner in which you are going to be using your body and performing in your real event.”
He pointed out that when you modify that by adding resistance or you develop an exercise that appears to be similar to what you will be doing within that sport, what you’re actually doing is creating and developing a separate skill — you’re not doing something that’s going to be transferrable to your sport.
“Whatever you’re doing in the gym you can get better at it and you can develop the skill of performing that exercise in the gym. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to transfer unto the field and somehow be applicable to training you as an athlete for your event,” he emphasized. “The way I look at this from that standpoint is it does not matter what their sport is and what their event is — [it] does not matter how they are going to use their body. What we’re doing in the gym is we are training, conditioning the body to be physically more capable.”
“Another way of looking at it is we’re building the raw materials. In other words, we are developing that muscular strength and power. We are developing endurance. We are enhancing our flexibility. We are enhancing our cardiovascular efficiency and so forth,” Tim continued. “All of those physical attributes are going to be enhanced and then whatever it is you’re going out there and doing with your body, you are going to be better at. You are going to be better prepared for it. Your body is going to be more able to perform and have those capacities that you need.”
Then, Tim highlights a key point:
“As an athlete, you have a separate area of training, and that would be skill-based training, but that’s done outside of the gym doing very specific training drills, practice, rehearsal, and things like that. Our job as trainers is to build those raw materials.”
He emphasizes this concept with this analogy:
“If we were trying to have an automobile racing team, we know that we want to have a good car — we want to have a good, powerful car that’s very fast, and has all these attributes and various abilities of the car itself to perform. We are looking at the engine, the power, the fuel delivery system, the transmission, the suspension, the stirring, and all these types of things. We want those to be as good as possible,” Tim said. “But of course, then we also need a driver to drive the car. In this case the driver would be considered the athlete and the automobile would be considered our body. On our end of things is we’re not training the driver to improve his skills of driving and to make a better driver. What we’re doing is improving the automobile and making it as well performing as possible.”
“When I say we’re building those raw materials, that’s what we’re doing. We’re improving the engine, we’re improving the suspension, we’re improving the steering, and all those types of things. We are building and enhancing our body and then separate from that the athlete is going out and training, practicing, and rehearsing their skills to become better at applying those.”
The Six Factors of Functional Ability and Sport-Specific Strength Training
Tim then refers back to the Six Factors of Functional Ability, which outline what influences functional ability with regard to sports and athletic performance.
He recalls the point he made at the outset where you should train an athlete the way you would anybody else, with consideration to selecting exercises that focus on muscle groups that are heavily used in their specific sport and those that are stressed in such a way that you want to provide protection and durability, and then uses Football as an example.
“For a football player, you definitely want to build their neck strength because it’s going to help protect their neck and their head. There is evidence that good strong neck muscles can be helpful in helping to minimize and prevent concussions and things of that nature,” Tim said. “I think neck training is important for everybody, but it would be particularly important for a football player, or a wrestler, or something like that to really build that neck strength and have it be protective for them.”
“If I’m training a golfer then the torso rotation or the rotary torso machine is going to be very important because it develops those muscles that rotate the torso which is very heavily used in driving a golf ball and hitting a golf ball. Same with the low back and things like that.”
He then provides a specific set of recommendations for strength training runners:
“Doing the leg exercise is as important but even more specifically… runners have a lot of problems with what is called shin splints where they get that irritation in their frontal shin, in the tibialis anterior muscle, and it can get inflamed because of repetitive overuse and things like that. They are rare,” Tim said. “But there are a couple of companies out there that make a tibia machine where you can do that anterior flexion exercise for your tibia. There is also a device that’s called the Dynamic Axial Resistance Device (DARD) where you can put barbell plates on and this thing slips over your foot and your legs hang off into the bench and you can go through that flexion. If I had somebody that was a big runner who is prone to those, I might especially involve that, and some calf exercises, and that tibia exercise and things like that.”
Driving the point home, Tim says:
“There is no special unique thing about an athlete that you train them differently. All the principles that we’ve discussed, all the principles that we’ve applied, same type of thing going forward. It’s just giving consideration to the exercises you’re using and rounding out the program — In addition to being a full body strength and conditioning program you may be including some special things for somebody that’s going to be stressing certain body parts and really stressing certain muscle groups.”
How Do You Sell High Intensity Training to Athletes?
I then asked Tim how he would approach getting athletes to buy into HIT strength training — do you go with injury resistance or performance improvements? What would you say to an athlete to get them to use high intensity training?
Tim indicated that a straightforward approach is the way to go.
“I would have a mini discussion based on how I just answered this question and talk about some of those things. I would address the idea that what we’re doing here is we’re building the raw materials and we’re making the human body as strong and capable as possible and definitely touch upon those injury things,” He said. “Depending on who I was talking to, I have – and many of us have – very unique exercises that you wouldn’t necessarily find in a gym: not too many gyms are going to have a neck machine; not too many gyms are going to have the MedX Exercise Lumbar Machine or even the Medical Lumbar Machine, or the Rotary Torso; other gyms may have a rotary torso but there’s no restraints — there is no stabilization for the pelvis or anything like that. Some of the equipment we have is very unique and very hi-tech. I would probably tout some of those equipment that we have that nobody else would have and our ability to strengthen more effectively certain body parts and muscle groups to not only strengthen and improve their abilities, but safety, protection from injury and things.”
Are Athletes Good Clients to Have for Your High-Intensity Training Business?
Our discussion then turned to whether athletes would be good clients to have in the first place, specifically, younger athletes.
I noted that younger athletes have a lot of time, but not a lot in terms of budget, and therefore not quite the best fit for a HIT business. There may be exceptions, such as if you’ve got a parent who wants to pay for their son or daughter who is an athlete to train with you because they believe in your particular approach, or if they just listen to what you say around the science around the difference between skill training and strength and conditioning and the differences and how that works, and the analogies you use, I think any smart person is going to or more likely to understand that that is the smart approach.
Still, Tim noted that the HIT approach provides great benefits to and utility for athletes:
“I think that’s a tremendous benefit for athletes… particularly if they are on a team sport or something like that, they are having to practice every day for a couple of hours,” he said. “I think it is like with football teams: if you are practicing every day on the football field for a couple of hours and you’re tackling and getting tackled, and hitting, and running up and down the field, and doing all this stuff, I mean, who wants to then to go into the weight room and do strength and conditioning four times a week for an hour each or something like that?”
“The idea that this could eliminate so much of that time in the gym, it’s going to enhance your recovery. It’s going to give you more time for practice and other things or just more time for rest and recovery. And just not to have to be dealing with all of this stuff that these athletes typically have to do.”
Despite all of this, we still talked about how almost all of us in the HIT industry are probably better off just avoiding that younger athlete population because you’re going to be butt up against coaching folklore and massive conflict of interest with their own strength and conditioning trainers —I would [personally] almost look to qualify those people out before they would get anywhere near the studio.
Tim then talks about dealing with clients trying to give trainers advice and whether it’s worth training athletes even if they have the budget to pay for HIT training:
“It’s interesting that you bring that up because oftentimes clients they’ll try to give me advice or they’ll know that I’m looking for new clients or something like that and they will say, ‘You know, what you really ought to do is…’ — all these parents out there are obsessed with getting their kids to be great athletes. They all have this vision that their kids are going to be great athletes and they are going to get a scholarship to a university or something like that,” Tim said. “They will pay anything — they will hire all these coaches and special tutoring in the sport and stuff. They would have no problems paying for their kid to have a personal trainer if they thought that that was going to really help them in their sports.”
“They are obviously being sincere in doing that, but based on what you just said… the problem is that they are wanting all of these mystical, special things. And fighting all these misconceptions within the fitness industry and what these other trainers are going to tell them, ‘You’ve got to do special power training and ballistic training to develop their power, and their speed, and you’ve got to do this, that, and the other thing,’ [in comparison], …our program doesn’t seem glamorous in that regard because it is just safe, sensible, science-based training that is not sensationalistic and mystical in any way.”
So even if these young athletes and their parents have the financial capacity, will they be worth your time and effort?
“It’s hard to sell it because… think of the parent’s position: they don’t know any better — if they’re talking to one trainer that’s claiming to have all these special things and doing all these special unique things that are tailored to the athlete and helping them develop these special skills, and functional training, and all these kind of stuff… and then they’re hearing me just talk about things that don’t sound so glamorous and mystical, it’s just a hard sell — I’m in your camp; It’s like, I don’t even want to mess with this!”
We talked about some potential exceptions to the rule, to which Tim brought up training the children of existing clients:
“If we are training somebody and we’ve got a good solid client that is a strong believer in the program and has experienced themselves and is really on board with the program and then they say, ‘Hey, I’d really like to get my son/daughter in here. My son plays football and I’d really like to get him in here and do this,’ Then I think it is a much easier sell because they are already onboard with the program,” Tim suggested. “They already know us and trust us and have that respect for what we’re doing. That would be one thing. But just going out in the community and trying to sell this to random people out there, it is going to be a tough sell.”
“Maybe some people are into that, and they have a special knack for it and special ability to really make that sale and convince people. It’s great. I wouldn’t discourage anybody or anything like that. But I think a lot of us there would be a lot of frustration in that and it may not be fruitful.”
What Types of Clients Should HIT Businesses Focus On (And How Should You Sell High Intensity Training to Them)?
On the other hand, the more likely types of clients we would have include weekend warriors and those looking to age well and gracefully.
For the weekend warriors, these will be the type A, busy professional types who also happen to be serious runners, or serious cyclists, or a serious fill-in-the-blank-sport person, for whom we’d highlight time efficiency: “Hey, all the stuff you’re doing around your ‘cycling’ or whatever it is, you can reduce that down to a 30-minute session once (or twice) a week and then just focus all your free time into your skill” — that can work quite well.
For the older men and women, it’s aging gracefully — making sure that you’re not just relying on your sport to give you adaptations, [but] that you want to age well. You need to have some safe strength training in there to really make sure that you’re optimizing as much as you can in a safe and efficient way.
“Think of all the other time that frees up in your schedule to do the things you really like to do,” Tim added. “You don’t have to be going to the gym 6 days a week for an hour and a half and doing all this then trying to figure out how you’re going to fit in your activities that you enjoy doing whether it’s running, cycling, or golf, or whatever it is. But just the idea that this is just going to be so much more efficient and [this will] free up more of your time during the week to do the things that you like.”
Should You Ignore Any Advice Your Clients Try to Give You?
Our conversation then turned to something you may already experience quite a bit, if you already have a strength training studio: clients giving you unsolicited advice.
I’m of the opinion that you should, for the most part, ignore your customer’s advice.
The vast majority of your clients won’t understand your business nor your target market, and you need to be very discerning about what feedback you listen to and what to ignore.
If it’s feedback about their own experience and how they feel, that can be useful; but if they start giving you advice about how to run your business, you should be quite careful at that point.
“One of the things I always try to do is that if somebody is trying to offer me their suggestions, their advice or whatever, obviously always be respectful. I don’t want to just be flippant with them or just dismiss them or anything like that. Be respectful. Listen to what they have to say. Give it due consideration,” Tim said. “But I would agree with you that a lot of times they just don’t understand our business and they don’t understand the philosophy at a deeper level like we do.”
That being said, we both agreed that occasionally, you can get some good advice from an insightful client, but that’s the exception more than it is the rule.
At this point in the conversation, we moved on to equipment-related questions.
Should You Lock Out on the MedX Chest Press?
Somebody sent Tim this question: “Do you advocate that the client locks out on the chest press momentarily in order to fully abduct the humerus so that you recruit the chest musculature most effectively so just short of hyperextension so they are just locking out momentarily or not? What’s your advice and position on this?”
“I think the key question here is addressing the MedX Chest Press, because [it] is unique in the sense that you’re not just pressing it straightforward and letting it come straight back that it has that converging nature to it.”
“Let me step back. Obviously, the idea of not locking out on a pressing movement – leg press, overhead press, or not locking out on standard chest press where you would be just pressing in a straight line back and forth,” Tim explained. “The reason not to lock out is because the direction of force is completely in line with the bones. And when you lock out technically there is no effective lever to impose any load on the musculature at that point. It is just being supported by the bones and the joints so obviously we don’t lock out. We employ that position. We keep just a slight bend in the joint in question to keep a little bit of lever in applying that load at that position.”
“With the MedX Chest Press – or maybe another chest press that has a converging nature to it – you do have this situation where even if you were to lock out there is still a load and a lever being applied to the pectoral muscles, the chest musculature. Then the question becomes, ‘do you allow that lockout?’”
What’s the Proper Exercise Form for the MedX Chest Press?
“Let’s quickly address what the proper form would be on this exercise — you should: have your… As you lay back against the seat pad or the back pad you would lay back, keep your chest elevated, there literally shouldn’t be a little bit of an arch or an extension in your low back. Your rib cage and your chest area is elevated. Your shoulders are driven down and back keeping them fixed into the back pad. As you press forward and allow the arms to converge together you are not changing any of that relationship I just described.”
Tim specified things you should NOT do:
- Arch your lower back
- Slump your chest
- Hunch your shoulders
- Allow your shoulders to roll forward and away from the back pad
“If you maintain that posture and positioning and then you press and the arms come together and you abduct the arms together and so forth, you can essentially have your elbows lockout and still have a meaningful load in the pectoral muscles of the chest. “
“I would in that case… I do two things: I allow that full extension of the elbows but I also apply the squeeze contraction for a moment.”
“In many of the rotary single joint movements you perform the positive movement, pause in the contracted position for a second or two and then return, I do pause in that contracted position on the MedX Chest Press, keeping the contraction, sort of squeezing the pectoral muscles for a second or two before then performing that turn around and come back down through the negative. That’s the way I would perform that. And if done properly the way I’ve described it you’re not unloading the chest even though your elbows are maybe fully extended.”
Dealing With MedX Chest Press Problems and Issues That Might Be Caused by Individual Variation
“The only weird things that sometimes happen and this is more for the individual. Sometimes it’s almost always a woman but I’ve seen it happen with some men – particularly like really thin flexible women – they can not only lock out their elbows, but they can hyperextend to the point where it’s almost like their elbow bends backward the other way,” Tim said. “They’ve got so much hyper flexibility that they can go beyond just a simple full extension or a lock out and it goes into hyperextension. And you’ve got looks like the elbow is bending backwards the opposite direction. I’ve seen that on a couple of occasions with women.”
“I even had a male client that was a really skinny guy. He was a swimmer and just hyper flexible. Whenever he would do the chest press or even have him do pushups on the floor, he would push all the way up, hyperextend and his elbow would bend back the other way,” he said. “In that case, that’s going too far. I would not want to see something like that. For that personal ability of that person, I would not let them go into that crazy hyperextension type of thing. If they just went to the point where we’re allowing the elbows to straighten and if they were keeping the rest of the form aspects the same and keeping the loads on the pecs then that would be fine. No need to push forward and go to hyperextension.”
“One of the things you really have to watch for too is that what predicates on making this effective in maintaining a load on the pecs is keeping those shoulders down and back, keeping the chest elevated, not slumping or hunching, or rounding the shoulders forward,” Tim said. “There are a lot of things that people can do wrong on that exercise: If they are doing some of those other form discrepancies, they could be unloading the pecs and not training effectively — I’m describing this based on if you’re doing all the other form aspects correctly you can pause in the contracted position, have the elbows extend, and keep the load on the pecs because of that converging nature. Even if the elbows are straight, that converging nature is attempting to pull the arms apart. That abduction, the function of the pecs abducting the upper arm across the chest that is still under load in that direction due to that converging nature.”
Using Memory Foam or Yoga Blocks to Bolster Seats and Adjust Client Positioning
I put this question to Tim, since many strength studios use supports to help certain clients get in situated comfortably on certain machines, such as Nautilus One equipment — these can be back and neck bolsters for some clients on leg curl and hip abductor/adductor machines, and the like.
“…I definitely advocate that in certain situations. I have a lot of various little pads, foam neck rolls and other pads. I have lumbar support pads. Even going back to our discussion on the chest press, I even have like a lumbar support mesh. It’s like a metal frame that is surrounded in mesh. It’s got these straps and it’s made for lumbar support like you would put on a chair behind or something like that.”
“What I do is I use that on the MedX Chest Press to put down in their lower lumbar region and that causes them as I was saying to get their back in an extended position,” he said. “It keeps that back up and extended and signals them to keep that posture, to keep that chest up and things like that. I do that.”
“On the MedX Leg Press, whether it is the regular leg press or the avenger, it’s the same type of seat. I’ve got a lumbar support, a lumbar roll that I do put under their lower lumbar region to support their back on that exercise,” he continued. “Obviously, there are a number of exercises where I may put a head pad or a neck roll behind their head to help hold their head and neck neutral.”
I asked him for examples.
“Depending on the person and their overall proportions and things, sometimes I will use it on the MedX Chest Press because some people if they lay back and they try to put their head back on the chest or the back pad, it seems they are arching and [unclear] their head back so I’ll put something behind there to bring it forward,” Tim said. “Always use a head pad behind their head on the MedX Leg Press. That’s another one. I’ve got a Nautilus 10 Degree Chest Fly machine and you are lying down on your back. A lot of people feel more comfortable to have their head supported a little bit on that exercise.”
“On occasion, I’ve used it on either the MedX Seated Leg Curl or the Leg Extension. I can’t really use it all the time because the back pad is not tall enough for really tall individuals. I mean, it is tall enough in the sense that it fully supports them. I don’t think it’s a bad back pad,” he said. “I’m just saying that for some people it doesn’t extend far enough up to be behind their head so you can’t really put a head pad behind them on that. Sometimes when I get somebody with a shorter torso, I will let them lean back and give them some back support, some neck and head support on that.”
What can You Do for Nautilus One Leg Press if the Seat is too Low for Most People?
I relayed another question to Tim about the Nautilus One Leg Press, which has the seat is too low for a lot of people even with the angle of the back seat increased — since the leg press machine cannot be raised or lowered, what seat bolster might be advantageous?
Something firm versus memory foam might be better in that it can be fixed to not move during the exercise. The questioner said that their partner scooches their rear end up the back seat about six inches and retains that position while doing the leg press, due to it being squeezed between the backseat and the foot pads (I think I could be getting this wrong). Bill DeSimone might have recommended this particular form in one of his books where your hamstrings or glutes aren’t even touching the seat, but the questioner’s concern with this is that they completely could lead to injuries, especially with a beginner. I wasn’t sure if this was a big question, but it was regarding the Nautilus One Leg Press — both about the use of supports, as well as the general positioning. I asked Tim for his thoughts about this.
“If I’m understanding this correctly… they are saying that if you seat your buttocks all the way down on the seat pad you are positioned too low relative to the footplate and you’re not really in a proper position,” Tim said. “They are wanting to get people, as you described, somebody is getting 6 inches up the back pad off the seat pad and they are basically hovering in midair with the exception that the load is holding them against the back pad and their butt is not even on the seat.”
“If they are asking, ‘what would you do in that case?’ or ‘what sort of pad?’, number one, I wouldn’t like that type of form and that positioning — the first thing I do, if that’s the problem with that machine – I never had that exact machine so I’d have to examine it to see exactly what’s going on with that – If that’s a big [concern] in that machine and you are 6 inches off in your positioning, if you are sitting on the back pad, I would do one of two things:”
- “I would get rid of that machine and get a better one.”
- “Or I would try to construct something to permanently raise that seat pad up, one thing you could do if there is room.”
“Again, I have to look at it and see what’s involved there, but you could remove the seat pad and you could underneath the seat pad get a big spacer block of some sort, maybe just even a big block of wood or something, drill some holes in it, and you could take and mount that seat pad 6 inches higher and have it permanently mounted and fixed in that position so that you don’t need any supplementary seat pads to put on there,” he said. “You don’t need to be hovering in midair with your butt 6 inches off the pad. You would just raise the seat pad to do that. One of my questions or concerns would be the shape of the back pad. If that back pad is shaped and formed in such a way that it’s intended that you’re sitting all the way down on the traditional seat pad to have your back properly supported.”
“You move 6 inches up the pad, and you’re mismatched with the relationship of the shape of that back pad. That could be a problem. I would want to look at those things,” he continued. “But if it were possible, I probably want to come up with the way of just remounting the seat pad 6 inches higher with a spacer block in there to keep it there. And then, you could have the person just sit down and be properly positioned. In lieu of that, you’d have to come up with some elevation pad like a bolster pad to lay on top of the seat pad. You might have a tendency for that thing to move around. I think if you’re sitting on it, it would probably stay pretty fixed.”
“If you got some highly skilled subject that can get into that position and can be 6 inches off the pad and really just very precisely perform that exercise, keep their back in position, keep their pelvis from moving and all of that kind of stuff. That may be possible,” Tim said. “But when you look at applying this across the board to all the different types of clients that we have and some people that are not just very skilled and they don’t have very good control and have form discrepancies and things, I would want to try to eliminate any potential problems and minimize the need for getting overly complicated with form and positioning.”
Want to Upgrade Your Strength Studio’s Exercise Equipment?
If you’re interested in modifying and upgrading your strength studio equipment, Tim can help you out — go to www.stronglifetraining.com and click on the Contact Us link, then fill out the form to get started.
Alternatively, you can also call Strong Life Training by phone: 630-862-5176.
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Bill DeSimone says
The specific leg press I referred to is the Nautilus Nitro with the spine curves built into the seat pads, but if you sit flat the curves don’t align. One of the demonstrated exercises in Joint-Friendly Fitness.
Lawrence Neal says
Understood. Thank you for clarifying Bill.