Training for Fitness

Why pay to measure what matters when you can do it for free?

by Matt Jordan on March 31, 2016 No comments

Article Overview: 1251 words focused on providing S&C coaches with important concepts for incorporating data analysis into practice.

Over the past few years, an important theme in many of my presentations is that elite coaches need to figure out what matters, track what matters and change what matters.

In addition to my presentations, effectively tracking what matters is the single biggest area of consulting I provide to strength and fitness coaches.

Coaches want to know: How do I figure out what matters? How do I efficiently track what matters?

And most coaches want to know: How do I do this without having to spend thousands of dollars per month?

The new breed of high performance coach gets the importance of being objective and knows he or she must integrate science with practice.

After taking all the internships, weekend courses and certifications one can afford, high performance coaches are ready to generate their own knowledge and understanding with a more scientific approach to training.

No doubt this takes some effort and expertise but it’s an essential part of the coaching process.  This is why mentorship can be so valuable – my goal is to teach coaches how to fish versus catching a single fish for them.

I teach the coach how to develop effective performance monitoring systems.  I don’t sell systems.

I also emphasize that without objectively determined metrics we are prone to confirmation bias, missing important training insights and prescribing the wrong training stimulus.

Confirmation bias is the big killer.

In the presence of observations that don’t fit our current belief system, we build narratives that dismiss away the anomalous or conflicting evidence and stick with only the observations that fit our beliefs.  This leads to plenty of issues.

I can tell you from many years of working with elite athletes that what actually happens in terms of training response can sometimes be entirely different from what is depicted in textbooks.

Thus, having a front-end plan without ongoing metrics is kind of like building a house and not getting your plumbing inspected before you put up the drywall.  How do you know that the plan was executed properly and that things are tracking according to expectations?

However, the challenge for implementing this new approach to training science is often cost and expertise.

Commercially available online training monitoring systems are often expensive and cumbersome.  Just like your computer, they often include a bunch of features that most coaches will never use.  On this front, you probably use a handful of reliable and effective applications on your computer and the other hundred or so applications never get touched.

Monitoring is the same – there are a few metrics that matter and mastering these metrics is the first step for effective tracking.  Trying to make sense of the multitude of potential numbers and metrics only leads to more noise and more confusion.

Performance monitoring and tracking has to be simple.

The truth is you can build a highly effective method for tracking your athletes without having to invest a lot of money.

On the other hand you can also invest a lot of money in a turnkey cloud training monitoring application but if you don’t understand how to manipulate data, synthesize data and distill down to what matters, you will be lost and you will lose your athletes along the way.

It is also critical to move beyond “pen to paper” solutions or the arduous task of typing data into a spreadsheet.  I have coaches that have years of data on scraps of paper in a desk drawer.

I applaud them for tracking what is important for their programs but how can anyone possibly make sense of a notebook of split times, loads lifted and days lost to injury?  It’s impossible with this format and the time needed to convert paper data into computer data is almost a complete roadblock.  No one has time for this.

These are some of the major barriers for effective athlete monitoring that I hear from the strength and fitness coaches with whom I consult.

Again, it doesn’t have to be complicated but it needs to be efficient.

One of my inspirations on this front is famed Canadian throws coach Derek Evely.  Having worked under the great Dr. Anatoly Bondarchuk, Derek has refined the science of athlete monitoring.  Derek understands the importance of tracking the variables that matter.  To this end, he has established best practice for tracking reaction curves or the performance response of his athletes to his training programs.

The evidence Derek has amassed over the years of tracking his athletes is really impressive. What’s even more impressive is the deep knowledge he has about training.  He doesn’t read textbooks – his textbook comes from years of writing programs and tracking what matters – this is the only textbook a good coach needs after developing knowledge in the foundations of exercise and sport science.

So, what are the first important steps?

Step one, is to learn the basics of collecting good data.  Again, mentorship is key.  Unless you have done a graduate level statistics course, you probably haven’t learned these skills.  But they are teachable!

Step two is to figure out what metrics matter for your athletes.  Simple measures that are almost universal are: weekly training load – athlete wellness – metrics to build reaction curves – and days lost to injury and illness.  More advanced metrics could be: heart rate variability for a team sport or endurance athlete – a measure of neuromuscular fatigue – or functional asymmetry (this is a big focus of my research as it pertains to ACL injury / re-injury prevention).

Step three is to begin collecting data with free online solutions and to learn how to visualize or summarize the data in a meaningful way.  A picture paints a thousand words and collapsing a 5000 row spreadsheet into a single graphic is where the magic happens.

Step four is to synthesize the data and understand what it all means.  Whether it is showing up to a training session with a conversation starter after flagging an athlete with poor sleep, reporting weekly fluxes in training load to your athletic therapist or team coach to identify athletes at elevated risk for injury, or reviewing four years of data with an athlete to determine what worked and what didn’t, synthesizing the data into something meaningful is a key final step.

This is where you create your own textbook and develop your own training systems.  This is what all great coaches ultimately do.

The last piece to remind you of is that the cost for this sort of system can be anywhere from thousands of dollars per month to zero dollars per month! 

I opt for the zero dollars per month – why would you throw away your hard earned money when free solutions exist to help you achieve your desired outcome.

What I aim to teach strength and fitness coaches is how to use freely available tools to implement good data collection practices around the metrics that matter.

I then help these coaches understand the principles of how training prescription impacts the performance of athletes through tools like reaction curves.

I think merging the science of training adaptation with the art of program design and coaching is where the truly great coaches emerge.

I plan to write more on this over the months to come but if you’re interested in diving into this area, stay tuned for webinars I am hosting throughout the late spring and summer.

You can also contact me to book a Skype call so that I can help you move from coach/artist to a scientist of training adaptations.

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Matt JordanWhy pay to measure what matters when you can do it for free?

What is your training philosophy? Guidelines for the non-athlete.

by Matt Jordan on June 13, 2014 No comments

Article Overview: 811 words on building a training philosophy for for the non-athlete.

My speciality is designing workouts for individuals with specific sport performance goals and helping athletes come back from injury.  I also get lots of requests to design programs for people who are looking to stay fit and lean while minimizing additional wear and tear on their body.

I understand this battle.  On the one hand high intensity training brings results.  On the other hand, half a lifetime of competitive sport or the normal routine of spending 5-8 hours sitting at a desk takes its toll. Keeping your body healthy  eventually becomes more important than hitting a personal best in the gym.

The pendulum in the fitness industry has shifted towards high intensity training of all modalities and types.  The long-term sustainability of this approach is extremely low especially in the absence of high levels of regeneration/recovery – something to which most individuals are unable/unwilling to commit.

It is important to build a training method and a philosophy that minimizes negative or maladaptive stress, and promotes positive training stress.

The key to a training program’s success is creating a meaningful energy flux (i.e. creating a disturbance in energy balance) and stimulating the body’s adaptive response.  The more frequently we cause an energy flux, the better the results.  The better our timing of changing the training stimulus in light of the body’s non-linear change in its adaptive response, the better the results.

Here are some recommendations for building your training philosophy, and striking a balance between positive training stress and negative/maladaptive stress:

  1. Start your workout by prioritizing three areas of MSK deficiency. This could be mobility-related, motor control-related, or synergist-strength related. It is beneficial to get a set of eyes on you in a formal movement evaluation to pinpoint these areas.
  2. Use a combination of whole-body multi-joint movements in each workout. These comprise your indicator or primary lifts. Multi-joint movements are known for providing the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to hypertrophy and strength development.
  3. Even though you may not be a high performance athlete, periodize your training. A good method is to alternate between a mesocycle (i.e. 3-4 weeks) in which you load by volume (extensification or accumulation where time under tension > 30s – reps 8-15) and then a mesocycle in which you load by intensity (intensification – time under tension < 20s – reps < 8)
  4. Start each each mesocycle with an introductory microcycle (a microcycle = 4-7 days). This can be followed by two building or overreaching mesocycles. In the first of the two building microcycles, it is best to increase the number of sets slightly (e.g. add 1-2 sets onto the primary or indicator lifts), and lower the rep bracket by 1-2 reps (e.g. go from 10-12 reps to 9-11 reps). In the second overreaching mesocycle, continue to increase intensity by lowering the repetition scheme and slightly reduce the number of sets. The final microcycle should be an unloading phase in which both the number of sets and the intensity are reduced.
  5. Manipulate rest intervals and tempo to achieve your training effect while reducing the external load requirement. These may be two of the most overlooked training parameters. For example, by reducing the speed of movement in the eccentric phase from 1 second to 4 seconds, there is an increased time under tension and the reduction in speed reduces mechanical advantage necessitating the use of a lower external load. Remember, time under tension and building tension are two keys for eliciting muscle hypertrophy. Conversely, the conscious acceleration and maximal neuromuscular activation while concentrically lifting a submaximal load can elicit substantial gains in muscle strength and power.
  6. Carefully plan the number of sets taken to technical failure. I say technical failure as I don’t mean passing that point of technical breakdown. Poor mechanics are a huge culprit for accelerating MSK dysfunction. Instead, you should plan in advance the number of sets in any given workout that are going to be taken to technical failure. Emerging research suggests that equal or superior gains in explosive strength, maximal strength and hypertrophy may be achieved by keeping a couple of reps in the bank.
  7. Intersperse higher intensity training sessions with some lower intensity sessions. This is not popular in the fitness world but sub-aerobic threshold training volume and restorative sessions (e.g. mobility/flexibility) will go a long way to increase your tissues structural tolerance and your overall work capacity.
  8. Nutrition and sleep are your two biggest assets for optimizing recovery from training and become increasingly important with age.
  9. Lastly, don’t get stuck doing the same program for months on end. While too much variation (think of chaos training – something I do not support) is problematic, too little variation leads to stagnation and is a real killer for overall gains.

These are just a few principles I find effective for establishing a training philosophy when the goals have moved beyond high performance sport although many of the principles apply here too.

Feel free to send me comments or feedback.

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Matt JordanWhat is your training philosophy? Guidelines for the non-athlete.

To Be or Not to Be a Moderate

by Matt Jordan on June 11, 2014 No comments

Article Overview: 784 words and a personal position piece on life long fitness in a world focused way too much on image and status.

How much are you willing to give up for leanness?

For some individuals, the answer is: a lot.  There is no doubt that being lean and having single digit body fat numbers is a big ego boost for many people out there.  For some this comes easier than for others due to factors like good genetics.  For others, single digit body fat is truly a religion and an obsession.

The figure below represents the change in percent body fat over a lifetime for the Athlete, the Obsessed, the Moderate, the Obsessed but Inconsistent, and the Sedentary folk.  What I’m trying to show is the real difference consistency makes versus being obsessed, and where the real problems lie.

In an effort to hit single digit body fat numbers,the Obsessed resort to extreme measures.  Of course many of these measures are effective for getting down to single digit body fat numbers but at what price?  Obviously there are the simple pleasures in life that one must renounce such as a traditional morning coffee with the occasional chocolate croissant.  However, there are undoubtedly many other negative effects associated with extreme nutrition and fitness fads related to health and mental wellbeing.

As we get inundated with advertising and media showing us how we “ought” to look, the Obsessed but Inconsistent individuals really get the raw deal.  Not only must there be a constant feeling of  not measuring up to the industry standard but no doubt there is also a lot of failed attempts to hit an unattainable target.  The perpetual swings between periods of unsustainably high commitment and periods of low commitment add up resulting in a trend over a lifetime towards the slippery slope of increased body fat and decreased muscle tissue.  For the Obsessed but Inconsistent, the periods of extreme deprivation and extreme dieting can only be balanced with periods of extreme indulgence.

Then there are  the Moderates.  They employ simple strategies consistently that allow them to maintain body composition at a reasonable level over a lifetime.  The issue with the Moderate is that their story is nothing new and not overly interesting.  You can’t sell the Moderate approach whether that be in a book, online or in a seminar.  In fact, it seems as though the voice of the Moderate is rarely heard.  While the Moderate’s popularity may have died alongside the popularity of the VCR, the question should be asked whether or not the new iteration is a better alternative.  As far as the VCR goes, I’m going to say Apple TV is a big improvement.  However, I can’t say the same about the theories and beliefs espoused by the Obsessed, which appear to have silenced the Moderates.

The difference between the Moderate and the Obsessed is shown below in the green highlighted area.  This is what a lifetime of commitment to extreme measures will bring you.  As we progress through the lifespan, not a single person can entirely overcome  the forces of nature and aging.  Sadly, while there are few certainties in life, the cycle of birth, aging and death are non-negotiable.  Of course this can be mitigated with exercise/lifestyle, and the natural trend towards increased body fat and decreased muscle tissue can be attenuated.  The question is whether or not the shaded green zone is really worth depriving oneself of ALL the simple pleasures in life.  I will leave it up to you to decide for yourself.

The green highlighted zone also shows what being a Moderate won’t bring you.  Living your 20’s, 30’s and part of your 40’s with near single digit body fat can’t be attained with occasionally enjoying simple pleasures and indulging.  In order to accomplish this sacrifices must be made.  Extreme results require extreme measures.

The orange zone in the figure below represents what consistency can bring you and what inconsistency can’t bring you.  The ups and downs of the Obsessed but Inconsistent typically leads towards an overall increase in body fat with time.  However,  simple strategies like sweating regularly, eating a lower calorie diet with nutritious food, and still indulging once in a while will generally bring decent results over a lifetime.  The orange zone represents what the basics and staying the course bring to the table.

The red zone  is the real issue for North American society.  This is where the bulk of the scientific research is focused and it is often the ammunition used by the Obsessed to justify extreme fitness and nutrition approaches.  However, let’s be fair in recognizing that this problem is one that requires a complete change in attitudes and beliefs.

I also think the solution to this dilemma is more inline with the Moderate approach than the Obsessed approach.




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Matt JordanTo Be or Not to Be a Moderate

Train Like An Elite Athlete and Stay Lean

by Matt Jordan on May 17, 2012 No comments

With my background in high performance sport, my definition of a workout was pretty complex.  Workouts had to contain a dynamic warm up, main lifts such as Olympic lifts, squats, presses and pulls, an assistant circuit, a core circuit, and some sort of cool down.  My workouts back in the day would easily run 60-90 minutes.

In the past four years, the chances of me fitting in a 60-90 minute workout have been more or less zero, and because of my slightly Type-A personality, if I couldn’t find 60-90 minutes, I would just skip the workout because I didn’t see the value in doing part of a workout.  With a hectic life running a business, getting the dog walked and parenting, this approach to training didn’t leave many days when a workout was possible.  To make matters worse, when I finally had a day to fit in my workout, it had often been 7-10 days since my last session, and my typical 60-90 minute workout left me sore for days.

Needless to say, I re-evaluated my approach to training, and I took lessons from the work I do with elite athletes to revamp my own personal approach to training.  During the competitive season it is next to impossible to fit in strength workouts with my elite speed skaters and skiers.  Skipping workouts is not an option due to the detraining effect on strength and power so we fit in smaller workouts that may last 15-20 minutes at select points in the training week.  Obviously these workouts are considerably different than the workouts they perform in the summer but it allows us to hit the gym and maintain strength and power throughout the competitive season without conflicting with the rest of the competitive schedule.

Here are a few characteristics of these workouts:

  1. The warm up is short, focused and specific.  It includes mobilization and activation of problematic   areas.  It does not address the “full system” warm up that we typically do in the summer months.
  2. The program addresses one or two main lifts, and when possible, these lifts are done in a paired fashion.  To a lot of you a paired exercise approach may resemble circuit training but the difference is the appropriate rest interval between working sets is always taken with a paired approach.
  3. We build to one hard set.  I always indicate a hard set on my training programs with a ‘+’ sign.  The rep and set scheme might read: 3×4+.  This would mean the athlete increases the weight each set and performs the final set to technical failure.  Remember, technical failure doesn’t mean a complete destruction of lifting technique.  It means you couldn’t perform an additional repetition with GOOD technique.
  4. The repetition scheme is usually in the range of 2-5 repetitions.
  5. If time permits, after the main lifts there is a short finishing circuit that focuses on the key weaknesses or physiological needs of the athlete.

I took the principles above and tweaked them to meet the needs of a 30 something guy who wants to stay in shape.  Instead of one hard set, I might perform two hard sets, which is written as 3×5++.  I also keep the rest intervals short.  The rest intervals are usually 60-120 seconds but I often shorten them to 30-60 seconds.  For all you strength coaches out there, you are probably citing scientific research in your head right now that shows the negative effects of short rest intervals on strength and power production but guess what?? I don’t care!  If given a choice between hitting the appropriate rest interval and getting the workout into my day, I choose the latter.  I always pair three main lifts that includes a complex lower body exercise, a pushing movement and a pulling movement.  I rip through these three movements in a paired fashion, building up to one or two maximal sets where I hit technical failure.  After my main lifts, I finish my workout with 1-3 sets of higher repetition assistant exercises, performed in a circuit fashion.  My main lifts are done in the range of 2-8 repetitions and my assistant exercises are done anywhere from 8-50 repetitions.  While still respecting the exercise categories (i.e. lower body, push, pull) I change my exercises on a workout by workout basis.  While the large variety in my exercise selection may limit my potential training gains, I find the variety in the movements prevents pattern overload and resulting overuse injuries, and it is also important for me mentally as it reminds me that I’m not working out for maximal gains in strength but for fitness and health.

Start to finish, my workout takes me about 10-20 minutes.  Because I am performing some sort of exercise for the entire 10-20 minute period, I also get a reasonably good cardiovascular response.  I’ve recorded my heart rate during these workouts and my heart rate remains between my Aerobic and Anaerobic Threshold for most of the workout and often hits my maximum heart rate minus 10-15 beats.  When I have time, I always include a warm up focused on mobilization and activation of my problematic areas.  I usually focus on T-spine, shoulder and hip mobilization, and core activation.  My mobilization warm ups are based on movements from Pilates and Yoga, along with my own unique exercises that I have developed over the years.

Here is my workout from Sunday (performed while I played with my 4-year old):

Start Time = 12:10 pm


Shoulder Mobilization on Foam Roll

Hip Flexor Mobilization on Foam Roll

Legs Up The Wall Myofascial Stretch

Pilates Sit Up

Prone Pull In on Swiss Ball x 10

5 Minutes Lego With Son

Main Lifts Pairing (3x Each Movement Building Weight Each Set. Rest Interval = 2’ Lego)

Low Pulley Split Squat 3×30+ (Build Up To a 45 Second Set on the Final Set)

Parallel Bar Dips 4×4+ (Built Up To A Set With 80 lbs and Banged Off 6 Reps on My Last Set)

Thick Grip Pull Up 4×4+ (Built Up To a Set With 30 lbs)

Assistant Circuit (2x Each Movement With a Constant Load and No Rest)

Offset Lunge x 10/side

Thick Grip Dumbbell Zottman Curls x 10

Blast Strap Back Fly

Finish Time = 12:30 pm

This style of training is extremely effective for improving body composition, staying fit and remaining healthy.  If you want more advice on this type of training, drop me a line or visit my website and click on myElite Training Program.

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Matt JordanTrain Like An Elite Athlete and Stay Lean