Something has changed within me, something is not the same…
For example, I’ve taken to openly quoting Defying Gravity, which is from the musical Wicked and quite obviously a song about lifting weights. More importantly, the lens with which I view the Perform Better Functional Training Summit has changed. This was my 5th year traveling from Long Island to Rhode Island for what’s most likely the best continuing education conference in strength training. This year, that’s for a different reason.
Perform Better is an iceberg. Fitness and medical professionals who are experts in their field share and update their ideas on how we can be better. In the past I’ve taken this as a starting point for what else to go learn. In the year that I’ve known Mark, Brian, and Kyle from MFF, I’ve done more continuing education than ever before, and used Perform Better to clarify and simplify many of the more intense learning I’ve done this year. Perform Better is still an iceberg; this year it was about the top and not the bottom.
In light of the simplicity that I gleaned from this year’s Summit, I hope to share my thoughts in the same way. Simple,
concise, and easily applicable.
Let’s meet the cast. Joining us on this Journey will be four of the most passionate people I know, all hell bent on living the best life possible. Introducing my fellow Ninja trainers from Mark Fisher Fitness, Geoff, Staci, Katie, and Mark. (Say hello HERE.)
After snagging some snacks at the mall, Staci, Katie and I rolled in to the Pre-Con to listen to Gray Cook, Lee Burton, and Dan John discuss the development of an exercise continuum from a Functional Movement Screen (FMS) to a KB Swing or to a Push Press. They reviewed the implications and implementations of the FMS, and the purpose for Movement Screening. The overwhelming message on programming was to use the screen to establish a movement baseline, improve capability when necessary, and then reinforce movement capability when enhancing fitness capacity. In many cases, this comes down to exercise selection:
Selecting appropriate exercises can be the most challenging part of designing appropriate training programs, but it all comes down to the exercises that create the desired movement patterns, then enhancing fitness. There are often times when this means we must cue and coach our clients to move in ways that aren’t as natural as we’d wish them to be. Those are situations to coach the desirable movement. The majority of times however, movement is the teaching tool, and over-cueing or coaching can actually hinder our training effect:
I visited both Gray and Dan at their individual lectures, and both talks were quite similar. Let’s save the big rocks for later.
After a short break, we picked up with Thomas Plummer of the National Fitness Business Alliance (NFBA) discussing How to Make a Make a Career In The Fitness Industry. I’ve seen this talk, or renditions of it, several times, and it never gets old.
Thom reiterates that 90% of us are followers, and 10% of us are leaders. That dichotomy is fluid depending on the situation, but it’s somewhere to start. He reminds us that even with a strong inclination for leadership, the business world is a tough place. Having the temperament to deal with the stress in the best and worst of times is important, as well as understanding exactly the who, where, and how you want your business to serve.
Along with tenacity, you need to vision to understand what you’re creating, along with the skills to inspire people to aspire to be better. If you take one thing from this, that’s it. Inspire people to aspire to be better. Thom noted that if your dream doesn’t scare the shit out of you, it’s not worth being a dream. Too often, our long-term dreams aren’t big enough, while our short-term dreams are too big. Starting small and establishing the habit of success is the key to making a career out of this. We don’t want to remember having dreamed a dream in time gone by.
I’m holding back fitness-specific details because that advice can be applied to everyone and everything. Every single one of us can take that advice and think about how we can use it to get better, regardless of what you do or where you work. You’re scared, I get that. We all are. I am, too. But the more time we spend focused on why we can’t or shouldn’t do things, the less time we have to actually do them.
Thursday night concluded with some power naps and a team outing to Teriyaki House in Providence, a pretty sweet Korean restaurant. I probably can’t give you the best review, because it was my first time eating Korean food! The food was great, but the company was even better. We were joined by our friend Kevin Dineen of Structure Fitness on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. If you’re in the area and MFF isn’t your thing, make sure you check out his place!
We had an extra hour on Friday to sleep in and skip registration, which meant it was still off to an early start as Katie and I hit the fitness center in the Hotel Omni so that we could get our lift on. She documented me finding the absolute best use for a Smith Machine:
Now, let’s get down to business:
Nick Winkelman – Every Day Is Game Day
Nick started Friday at 9:15am, essentially batting lead off for the entire conference. When he was done, I closed my notes and said, “That was the best Perform Better talk I’ve ever seen.” The bar was raised. What the hell did he talk about?
Nick’s in a position at EXOS where he can see athletes more frequently or longer than most people. His contact time with athletes is way higher than most of us, and he still sees them for very small portions of their week. Living every day like it’s game day means bringing our best stuff every day as coaches, and inspiring our clients to aspire to live their best life every day. So often, we look at training as building the best car possible. We put in more powerful engines, faster brakes, stronger suspension, but even a Ferrari isn’t going to drive very fast if there are speed bumps in front of it. Nick talked about those speed bumps.
When we join the fitness industry we make a promise that we’re going to bring the best application. That’s no longer about sets, reps, and overload. As we begin to understand the significance of behaviors, we have to consider how often are we giving behavioral strategies to upgrade overall life. If every day is game day, every day is an opportunity for us to prepare, perform, and recover to the best of our abilities.
Success begets success, and it’s important that we establish the habit of success at any given moment, so we can be more successful on a longer timeline. This means we have to influence choice and behavior outside of a training session. That’s not about results, but actually about happiness. Ask yourself, “Am I making my clients happier in life? If they can have success with their own body, how can they be success with the rest of their life?”
Motivation first and foremost comes from individual choice. (Nick addressed this in more depth during his second lecture.) He continued to share with us many of the action steps that EXOS has taken to ensure that there are action steps available for their athletes. Nick has the luxury of having physical therapists, massage therapists, nutritionists on staff, but for you this may mean keeping cards with suggestions for close by and reputable professionals to refer to, maps to show the proximity of healthy restaurants in the area.
The goal is to make health-enhancing behaviors so second nature that they become second nature. Creating sub-conscious behaviors throught the integration of sustainable stratigies turns best practices in sport/life into habits. We’re creating a mindset that allows us to find a new normal. Change is a good thing.
Peter Twist – 50 Can Be The New 30: Loading the Body’s Communication System
“Who the hell is Peter Twist,” I thought to myself as I sat down for this talk. The topic is what pulled me in. I’ll go back for Peter next time as well, because of the passion with which he delivers his message. In the most cliche bootcamp-style strategy, we stood up together and recited his coaching philosophy. Then I realized how powerful the statement is:
You can apply this to everything. Twist reminded us that nobody in the world fully understands the human system. Remember when fascia was just pulled out of the body during dissection? (Well, sometimes it still is.) We now know that fascia communicates far faster than our motor network. We’re learning. We’re building a better model of the body. Individually, we’re here to build better models of ourself. Peter transitioned from personal development insights to dense exercise physiology so fast that it was impossible to not be enthralled with his talk.
One moment he was discussing optimizing multiple force vectors for a rich sensory experience, then he was relating it to floating down a mountain on his snow shoes. He was enjoying the diversity possible with a movement-based training model, then relishing the rain that he’s accustomed to in Vancouver. The ability to move without pain, through a variety of structured and reactionary movements, is the framework for how we learn about our environment, and about our lives.
In my notes from this lecture, I included, “You sound like Ron Hruska and Thomas Meyers right now.” This refers to the founder of the Postural Restoration Insititue, and the author of Anatomy Trains. There are a number of cues and phrases I’ll be stealing from Twist. My favorite was, “Learn to express from your toes to your fingertips.” That’s a great place to start.
When Peter wrapped up his rapture with the Serrape effect, it was lunch time. We found ourselves downstairs at the convention center, eating boxed salads and wraps, along with the likes of Dan John and Gray Cook. That doesn’t suck. Eating always has the potential to make you feel more tired, as your body is focused on digestion. A casual walk is a great way to take care of this. Be sure to stay hydrated!
Gray Cook – The Best Functional Exercises In the World
Chatting with Gray during lunch was a great set up for his lecture. I enjoy listening to Gray to see how the expression of his message evolves over the years. Gray, who could largely be considered one of the preeminent figures in corrective exercise, is great at making you pull your head out of your ass and understand the big picture. Looking at the culture of corrective exercise, he reminded us that correctives are a supplement to exercise that can’t be completed, and that exercise is a supplement to regular physical activity. We’re quick to address supplements and real food for dietary intervention, so why not with exercise?
He continued by reminding us that you can’t call yourself a speed coach without a stopwatch, and you can’t callyourself a movement coach without a movement baseline. If you’re not utilizing a pre-assessment to know your starting point, what the hell are you measuring?
Gray’s talk focused on how to reinforce movement capability while developing fitness capacity at the same time. The word “functional” is about as vague as the word “strong,” so Gray defined it for us:
Functional exercise should put the physical constraints back in to programming for the purpose of developing and maintaining function.
My boy’s wicked smaht, eh? Corrective or functional exercise isn’t simply about generating range of motion. It’s about creating the ability to into and out of the desired position necessary for different tasks. Once of the best ways to reinforce that ability is by clicking save on your document. (I just did this!) If you’re writing a motor program, how do you click save? By loading the pattern. If you can breathe under load during any given movement, that pattern is going to stick. Then, you’re off to work on capacity.
One of the best saving strategies is to carry. Compression and distraction do wonders for movement. “Never lift something you can’t carry,” Gray noted. That heavy deadlift doesn’t sound so strong if you can’t carry it, right? Exercises like a Turkish Get Up, chin-up iso hold, or straight arm hang are vertical carries. Farmer, suitcase, rack, and waiter walks are all horizontal carries that help reinforce appropriate movement, provided that the movement ability is already there. It’s not about strength, it’s about alignment. “That’s the whole point of self-limiting exercise. You’re there to make them relax so their body can do something with the tension.” Remember, don’t put strength on top of dysfunction.
After Gray’s lecture, the 2:45-4:00pm session was a toss up. Such a toss up that I ended up skipping it, along with some of the MFF team, to talk with some of our friends from the Providence area and MBSC. There were some great conversations had with Henry Lau, and Tony Bonvechio, both based in Providence, and MBSC badasses Ana Tocco and Kevin Larrabee, who has the most recognized voice at Perform Better as the host of The FitCast. If you’re not listening to The FitCast, I’m not quite sure why…
Dan John – Training After 20: From Untrained to Mastery (Hands On)
Dan John is one of the best coaches in the country because he has the ability to make things simple and intuitive. You could be a week one trainer, and learn a lot from Dan John. I also believe that you could have your PhD in coaching psychology, and learn a lot from Dan John. His hands on was focused on making the most out of simple exercises and big-rock movement patterns.
For Ninjas at MFF, this was basically our introductory UniCORE class. Dan John, certified bad-ass and strength philosopher, taught UniCORE. It was epic. He discussed assessment techniques to use within any movement pattern, the basics of the hinge, squat, push-up, and loaded carry. When the coaching science literature becomes overwhelming, Dan’s intuitive style is one of the most fascinating examples of how to coach movement you can see. Wow.
The surprise special guest was the founder of the Spartan Race. I heard that it was very good… because I didn’t go. Team MFF took a nap break so we could get ready for the social, and general debauchery planned for that evening. The Autobots rolled out individually, and finally we all met at Murphy’s to unwind. Here’s a summary of the night:
After that, many of us were running on our last sleep-deprived legs, and I was barely able to stay up for Mark getting back with an assortment of Cheesecake Factory goodness. I definitely didn’t finish two of them…with help, of course.
Saturday began with some sleeping in, and the largest Starbucks iced coffee possible. Thank you, Staci Jackson! The first stop of the day was the second lecture, where Charlie was ready to throw down.
Charlie Weingroff – I Lift Heavy Things And Put Them Down
Charlie Weingroff is a strength coach that knows how to deal with pain. This is what he’s said in almost every interview, presentation, or product I’ve seen him in. He’s a strength coach that knows how to deal with pain. Somehow, he became a rehab guy, or a corrective exercise guy, in the performance world, and it seems that the misinformed jump on the wagon because his training equals rehab shtick is sexy.
First and foremost, let’s respect the difference he regularly talks about: Medical professionals and performance professionals do not do the same thing. They work with the same body, sure, but they don’t do the same thing. Respect that difference, then understand that there’s a ton of grey area. Charlie lovingly reminded us that:
The only reason we do [corrective exercise] is to be an absolute, ruthless, savage.
How’s that for setting the stage for your talk? He continued, “We’re going to talk about strength; We’re not going to talk about fixing things. We’re going to talk about being a monster.”
Human performance is largely determined by strength, but what does that even mean? There are many definitions of strength, from a maximal effort barbell lift, to a callisthenic endurance test, to competing in marathons or triathlons. Defining strength is difficult. It involves movement, output, readiness, sensory system integration. It may be hard to define, but it’s easy to understand. Strength is a fishbowl. In that fishbowl you can put whatever other aspects of human performance you want, but if your fishbowl is small, it’s going to fill up rather quickly. How can we make it bigger?
Let’s follow the SAID principle: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. Charlie outlined Han Selye’s model of General Adaptation Syndrome, and reminded us to bring the alarm. If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. The focus that we want is to build neurological strength. With any exercise, you can do it easily, you can do it moderately, or you can do it with the ruthless intent to contract muscle. That’s what we want.
Many of the neurological “tricks” that Charlie has become known for are what the strongest people in the world do naturally. They allow you to lift more weight, for free. Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization and joint centration kinesiology happen for them naturally. He explained that reflexive stability starts with the breath, and that when your hips and thoracic spine are free to move, you can bring the heat. All of the DNS, PNF, or fill-in-the-blank popular acronym isn’t gospel; it’s simply part of the system that helps to make you a bad ass.
Eric Cressey: Scapular Control: Implications for Health & High Performance (Hands On)
Eric Cressey has become the celebrity of the scapulae. It’s impressive, really. There was a huge turn out for his assessment-based hands on, where he took the audience through a hands-on appraisal of the shoulder joint, along with some manual adjustments that may be useful for reinforcing the desirable myokinematics. Resting scapulae position is important, bilateral symmetry is important, and bilateral movement is important. After that, I’m not sure how many quick take-away’s I have from Eric’s talk. It’s not that it’s not good, it’s just that most of the hands-on was outside of my scope of practice. One big take away that I got from Eric’s talk was how beneficial it can be to put your hands on someone.
The other half of the Cressey Performance dream team, Tony Gentilcore, talks about it HERE. If someone is having shoulder pain issues and are going to need a more in depth evaluation, I’m going to send them to Connor Ryan. That’s perfect, because he was sitting 20 feet behind me during this talk.
I scooted over to talk shop with Connor, and we eventually headed outside to continue the talk. Mark soon joined us, and then it was time for lunch. I had a boxed salad from the night before in the hotel fridge, so that meant it was nap time. Play hard, recover hard, right? An hour later, it was back down for more knowledge.
Nick Winkelman – Stop Shouting! I Can’t Hear My Motivation Talking
If Nick’s talk on Friday morning was the best Perform Better presentation I’ve seen, it’s now second place to this one. Maybe I just love what Nick is doing for the field. In this presentation, he addressed the motivational coach stereotype. The screamer, the yeller, the person who makes you believe that you can do anything.
That’s great, except for when it only lasts for an hour three days a week. Motivation is far deeper and far more complex than that. Most importantly, it has to come from within you. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t mean anything. Within social cognitive theory, Self Determination Theory proposes that intrinsic motivation emerges in accordance with the fulfillment of psychological needs. It emphasizes the “role of the environment in fueling people’s perceptions of self determined autonomy, competence, and relatedness.”
Autonomy is key. The opportunity to govern one’s self,freedom from unwanted external control and influence, and self directed decisions are the basis for autonomy. From there, consider competence, or the ability and belief in one’s ability to successfully or efficiently perform a task. This is self-efficacy at it’s finest. To best the best coach possible, we need to demonstrate Autonomy-Supportive Behaviors. This means “[we] take the other’s perspective, acknowledges the other’s feelings and provides the other with pertinent information and opportunities for choice, while minimizing the use of pressure and demands.”
In the end, motivation emerges when the basic physiological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness are fulfilled.
Charlie Weingroff – I Lift Heavy Things And Put Them Down (Hands On)
Charlie Weingroff’s hands on was money. We have the person who is pegged as the rehab guy, talking about complex neurological systems and orthopaedic stress coaching movement…like a coach. Fancy that!
We focused on the basics of DNS, PNF, and movement by using one word cues that were loud. It’s amazing how effective those are if you’re used to quoting a textbook when you teach. We focused on the hardstyle deadlift and one arm kettlebell press…and creating the maximal amount of tension possible. We first stabilize the spine; this is about using air to push against our belt in all three directions. Then, we thought about creating external rotation torque. How the hell do you do that?
DIAL! DIAL! Seriously, dialing your feet into the ground creates tension through your hips like you wouldn’t believe. DO IT! Once that’s taken care of, you crush that kettlebell.
Obviously out of the hands-on, this works with barbells, dumbbells, and the implement of your choice. If powerlifting isn’t an interest of yours, Charlie’s coaching may have seen brash or aggressive. I assure you, if you want to move like a monster, getting loud is part of the game. It also helps if you can joke around a wee little bit of the time. Hey Henry!
After Charlie wrapped up his hands on, it was pretty hard not to be in lifting mode, so that’s exactly what happened. Sweaty time became shower time, which turned into team dinner…which quickly lost some steam because Bar Louie in Providence took over an hour to get us our food. Good thing the World Cup was on. It was then to Fire & Ice for their ice cream bar, then I was super excited to bring the team to Providence’s WaterFire exhibit. If you haven’t seen it; go!
I ran out of steam faster than the rest of the team, and headed up to bed, where they quickly came up. After some bed-time stories, it was lights out for the night. Sunday morning was soon upon us…
Sheri Walters – Pelvic Floor: Anatomy, Function, and Dysfunction in Athletic Populations
Over the next 5 years, you’ll begin to hear more about the pelvis. In the next 10 years, it’s going to sound like everyone and their mother have pelvic floor dysfunction. Get used to it.
Sheri did an incredible job of taking several different assessment and treatment strategies and bringing them into one all-encompassing lecture. Due to our immaturity or cultural sexualization of everything possible, the most intricate that we’ve gotten as a field talking about pelvic anatomy is orientation in the frontal plane. Apparently it’s only allowed to do three things.
The pelvis does more than this. It’s not a solid ring of bone. It’s a ring of boneS that can move, tilt, shift, and rotate. Ya know that ring that you always wear when you deadlift that is no longer a circle, and has the familiar bar knurling on the palm side? Yea, that’s the best. Anyway, your hips are sort of like that. Bones shift because of our inherently asymmetrical anatomy, our postures that are driven and reinforced by this anatomy, and our movement habits and experiences. When things aren’t set up justttt right, our muscles aren’t going to be as balanced as we’d like.
Since everything in your body is connected through our dense fascial system, we know that local dysfunction can lead to global dysfunction. Sheri’s checklist for addressing the pelvis was simple and easy to implement. Let’s think about breathing and squatting. Simple, right?
If you can effectively exhale, your activating your pelvic floor. If the ‘soft core’ that we focus on with breathing is like a soda can, exhaling helps you create that dome on the bottom of the can. Without that dome in the bottom of the can, it wouldn’t be able to hold the pressure of the carbonation that’s inside. That is what your insides are doing. Learn how to exhale, and you learn how to activate your pelvic floor. Got it? Now get into a squat.
While I’d highly suggest that any fitness professionals take the PRI Pelvis Restoration Course or read Zac Cupples’ review of it, HERE. The biggest take away is that a sustained, unloaded deep squatting is going to help reinforce desirable action in the pelvis.
Sheri recommend moving towards 20 minutes of deep squatting per day, and if you’re sitting in your desk chair while you read this, that means NOW is the perfect opportunity to get up and drop it like it’s hot. Now stay there, and take a breath. Don’t worry, we can all wait for you. Continue on your day.
Todd Wright – 3-Dimensional Functional Core Training
I have attended Todd Wright’s presentation every year I’ve been at Perform Better. He’s one of the few people I refuse to miss. Todd Wright, Dumbledore, Gandalf; It’s a tight list. I enjoy what Todd does because he does things so differently from the rest of us. He thinks differently. It’s the most powerful thing I have to check my perspective on training.
Todd has been the Vertical Core guy for a while, and I believe he’s done an incredible job of applying what Gary Gray talks about to the weight room. His programming and coaching focuses on developing movement literacy in multiple planes of movement with multiple body segments. If you’re over the “functional training” fad, you may immediately chalk this up as crazy talk; I know that’s what I did when I first learned about it.
Todd did something different this year. He discussed Down on Ground 3-D Core Training. This was huge for me. Todd’s discussing how infants spend the first year of their life on the ground. He’s discussing rolling, crawling, and walking as developmental milestones. He’s discussing proprioceptive feedback and neural development. How we inherently known, unlearn, and relearn how to move. Todd’s teams have been revisiting the ground because it allows them to better learn or relearn foundational neural pathways. The different positions can create movement variability, creating a richer sensory experience.
Just as you’d motivate reach, pivot, and gate while developing locomotive skills, you should be focusing on reaching, rolling, and crawling variations while developing ground-based skills.For me, Todd hit the developmental milestone sweet spot between the dense neurology of DNS and the broad nature of MoveNat. If you’re not looking into his work, I think you’re missing out on the future of training.
Brandon Marcello – Post Programming: Recovery and Regeneration
Brandon Marcello may have had the highest knowledge bomb dropping rate of any presenter at Perform Better. (Sorry, Nick.) Seriously, he carpet bombed us with information and strategies to recover and regenerate. Brandon’s PhD is in overtraining, and he noted that he doesn’t believe in that. It’s not irony; it’s because he’s learned that the limiting factor on everything we do is our ability to recover from it.
Recovery strategies are often dismissed in favor of the sexier idea that you can just believe your way to success no matter what. That’s bullshit. Removing obstacles to your success often involves getting out of your own way. Consider this to be intentionally taking out the middle ground. You’re either working hard to perform or recover; take out the in between. Think about running speed: Think sprints or walking; take out the option of a jog.
An often addressed but underrated option is dietary intervention. QUICK: Go take your fish oil! If we’re putting high-quality gasoline into our cars, why are you putting garbage food into your body, which doesn’t come with replacement parts? Nutrition, hydration, foam rolling, and stretching are pretty common to hear about. Get those in check.
Brandon discussed how we can integrate a calming breath into a stretching practice, how contrast baths or showers, as well as saunas, steam rooms, and cold plunges can work. Where do you start? Try alternating :30s of cold water into your hot shower, every :30s to 3 minutes. If you’re heading out to kick some more ass, end with cold water. If you’re ready to relax, end with hot water.
The biggest factor that we overlook, and something that almost everyone can better at is, catching those Z’s. When our sleeping habits can fall into a pattern that we expect and know, we’re going to have higher quality sleep. Stop reading this at midnight, turn off your lights, put down your phone, block out that flashing clock or charger, perhaps invest in a sound machine or a white noise app, and go to sleep.
To mentally decompress and move a bit after the show, Staci, Katie, and I visited Small Point Cafe one last time before we left town. That Mexican Mocha is the BEST cup of coffee I’ve ever had. Salads in our bellies, it was I-95 South to NYC.
The ladies lounged while our ride moved south, and I was able to reflect on what’s easily one of the best weekends of the year, and the best time I’ve had up there. A thought that I have fairly regularly came to my head:
We know so much, and nothing at all. There’s very little that we don’t know about the human body. We continue to refine our research methods, our models, and how we train the body. There’s also a ton that we don’t know about effectively communicating what we know about the human body. The fitness industry has been limited by it’s need to talk about training volume, testosterone-driven motivation, and the neurological implications of breathing. We need to get better about talking about these things in user-first phrasing that is empowering and focuses on the ultimate goal of happiness.
Perform Better is an iceberg. For many, they see the top, and choose to venture down. After spending the last year underwater, popping up to see the tip provided me with some clarity and focus for what I learn next. Just keep the knowledge comin’.