Recap of the 2016 Perform Better Functional Training Summit

It’s that time again, folks.  If you’re in a hurry, head over to Twitter and check out the hashtag #PBFTS.  Over the course of the weekend, I tweeted a bajillion times. Twitter is my preferred note taking system for fitness events, since my goal as a coach is to share information, not horde it. How useful would learning and improving be if I did it by myself? You’ll see a good deal of embedded tweets from myself, as well as other attendees and presenters, and that’s because I hope that you continue the sharing process with me. If you’re ready for story time, let’s get down to business.

Setting the scene: On Thursday morning I wake up in NYC, meditate, and begin the tedious process of packing for Providence.  It’s summer, but the Rhode Island Convention Center is colder than the arctic.  There’s a social on Friday night; which pair of unicorn socks should I wear? My bags are packed, my car is packed, it’s time to head north on I-95. Three and half hours and some Four Hour Workweek later, I’m in Providence.

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Thursday afternoon included two free pre-conference lectures, and this year it started with Gray Cook discussing the “FMS Approach to Performance: What Should Be Tested After Movement.” I wasn’t at Gray’s talk, but these two tweets exemplify his wisdom:

Rick Mayo: Best of the Best

I rolled into Providence as Gray was wrapping up, making it in time to listen to Rick give the same talk last year.  Something peculiar happened; it felt like a completely different talk.  I’m not quite sure how Rick did it, but I heard a whole different set of recommendations and ideas, while I was fully aware that I had heard all of this before! The mind is a mysterious place.

Rick delved into the increasingly normal business model for fitness facilities that are influenced by strength and conditioning.  It’s a tiered system that I believe beautifully balances results-driven fitness with business profitability.

On competing with the increasing number of CrossFits, spinning studios, and group fitness spaces:

On effectively using the space that you have:

On the physical and mental results, and pricing structure, of 1-on-1 training versus small group training:

At sometime during Rick’s talk, it clicked. Something flipped. I switched to a Word document and took notes about branding at MFF, about our Motivation and Movement LAB, and about my personal brand.  On the spot, I made some edits to my website, and over the course of the weekend, I redesigned almost all of it.  Rick’s repeated talk was a great reminder that wherever we’re at in our personal journeys, we can always learn new things.

Thursday Night

After Ricks’ lecture got out, I headed to the AirBnB that I was staying at with Geoff Hemingway, fellow MFF coach and our class experience manager.  We chatted a bit our host Nick, cleaned ourselves up, and then headed out for dinner at Union Station Brewery.

As expected, the MBSC crew who taught the CFSC that day was hanging out, and it was a pleasure to have beers and brownies with some of the best coaches in the business.

Geoff and I walked home and were in bed by 11:30pm.  I then got back out of bed, and did more work on this website until I realized it was the ungodly time of 3am.  It was at this point that I set my alarm for 8:30am and promptly went to sleep.


Mark Verstegen: Aqua Fitness

The day began with a meditation, a whole lot of coffee, and a walk to the convention center.  The next hour would be the low-point, if I can even call it that, of the weekend.  I checked out the speaker schedule and peaked into a few rooms.  I noticed that the venerable Mark Verstegen, of Athlete’s Performance and now EXOS, was presenting to a very small audience on the topic of Aqua Fitness.

I chatted with a few friends about how talk that seemed a little disjointed from the rest of the weekend’s theme, and I decided that I would be able to attend the talk based on Mark’s incredible experience, and talk a topic I was cautious about and find actionable steps.

I was unable to this.

I’ve seen Mark present several times over the years. He’s a great presenter, and I’ve enjoyed his content each time. Compared to the work he’s done, and the atmosphere and attendees I see at the Summit, Mark’s talk about exercising in a pool was not the most appropriate topic. Sure, some of the coaches may have access to a pool, but I’d venture that most don’t.  It felt like a disconnect between a fitness industry drawn to  elite level strength & conditioning, and the actionability of these ideas in non-competitive health and fitness.  My frustration subsided when I realized that so many of my fellow coaches at the Summit were not at this lecture, and I believe we vote with our attendance.

This was the only time in 7 years of attending the  Perform Better Summit that I felt a talk was poorly chosen for the audience in attendance.


After Mark’s talk got out, I milled around during the second session, without much time inside any room, but a ton of time talking outside of them.  The mill-around-and-socialize thing never felt right to me until I met the MFF team, and I really enjoyed my time chatting with other coaches.

Lunch was next, and Geoff and I visited Murphy’s with Haylin Alpert of Core Principles, which is located in Stamford, CT.  I’ve known Haylin for a few years, and it was a pleasure to catch up and talk shop over gigantic salads and an IPA.

After lunch, it was time for Coach Boyle.

Mike Boyle: The New Functional Training for Sports Starts with “Why?”

Boyle has had a profound impact on my philosophy as a coach, and I have a whole lot of his wisdom coming your way right now:

Coach Boyle on how our programs have been influenced by athletes using Performance Enhancing Drugs:

On the increasing prevalence of people getting hurt while training to become more fit:

On tissue quality, foam rolling, and stretching:

Are we looking at short-term progress or long-term health? I know where Boyle is at:

This.  This response was even better in person, because Coach Boyle actually hopped across the stage like a rabbit:

Coach Boyle’s wisdom has always impressed me, and I continued the conversation he began with several coaches outside the presentations during the next session.  It’s becoming more important to synthesize and refine these ideas in the moment, to create a more clear picture of my personal practice, and my role at MFF.

Charlie Weingroff: Pick A Plan: Choosing the Best Approach

I imagine that Charlie Weingroff’s lecture would upset a lot of college registrars. Had I seen this before attending school, I may have passed on that “Advanced Exercise Prescription Class” I took one semester.  Professors, on the other hand, would be proud of his ability to be clear and concise with different exercise prescriptions.  In short, Charlie absolutely killed it!

Here’s how he set the stage:

On appropriately programming for general population versus performance oriented lifters:

On appropriately pairing exercises during the program design process:

On the importance of doing aerobic exercise for performance:

Charlie recently wrote a blog post about the Lowest System Load, which asks, “How can we maximize force (F=M x A) without maximal loads?”

When it comes to periodizing for a competition, Block Periodization is king:

Charlie then dove into the specifics of exercise prescription based on duration of sets.  I’m pretty sure this chart sums up a whole month of college courses:


I’ve been using heart rate based training in the gym and on my bike, and that awareness made this recommendation from Charlie sound awful:

Charlie wrapped up his talk with a reminder that we need balance in our training.  It’s important to focus on heavy weights that are limit strength, moving lighter weights fast for rate of force development, and improving our work capacity so that we can be recovered for repeat bouts of those activities.  Here’s Westside in one slide:


Charlie wrapped things up, and I headed back to our AirBnB to take notes on these ideas, and prepare for the Friday night social.  I had my first Miller Lite, chatted with friends, and watched Kevin Larrabee do everything in his power to organize a dinner party.  The consummate student, this is what he said to me:

It turned out to be successful, and we found ourselves at Union Station for the second night in a row, enjoying our time building friendships.  This is a damn fun community to be a part of.

Saturday morning began with my biggest challenge at Perform Better: Trying to decide who the hell I want to see talk! It’s always a great presenter panel, so deciding on one is a challenge.

Emily Splichal: The Future of Proprioception Training

I decided to start with NYC-based podiatrist Emily Spichal, who focus on the importance of foot function for full-body function.  If I focus on the foot, they’re basically sensory-deprivation chambers, and we could see great benefits training without them.  If I focus on the body, it’s important to allow those bare feet to better influence the rest of our system!

On anatomy:

On proprioception:

Emily went into detail about the importance of specific postures or positions to improve performance, and it seemed to me that they’re actually not that important.  This echoed a point that Charlie Weingroff made on Saturday, and that’s that if you physically feel good, maybe posture/position isn’t all that important.  Huh!

Emily fielded a great question from the audience that asked, “Our athletes can train barefoot, but they compete in shoes.  Does it carry over?”  Her answer: “Yes!” To best do this, she shared her strategies for creating the “short foot” posture:

Nick Winkelman: Learning That Sticks – How Analogies Shape Understanding

Nick Winkelman is going to have a massive impact on our industry.  At the moment, the legends of strength and conditioning are those who have made breakthrough progress in how we design our exercise programs.  I believe that the future belongs to those who improve who we communicate as coaches, and Nick is leading the charge there.

It’s time to elevate our game as coaches.  It’s not just movement anymore:

If the desired outcome doesn’t take place without your presence, we’re not reaching our goals:

Learning is about if a client or athlete can recreate it on their own without you:

Let’s talk about linguistics for a second:

This was the crux of Nick’s talk.  It’s a beautiful layer on top of his past presentations on coaching science, and external cues.  We can layer analogies and story for a more powerful effect as coaches:

Storytelling has entered strength and conditioning.  Strive to create a better mental picture for our clients and athletes:

The framework for analogies is as follows:

Applying this framework can be a challenge.  Nick provided these action steps for implementing analogies while coaching:

For me, this is a layer of self-determination theory woven in. That framework allows us to coach athletes or clients in a way that fosters their feelings of success and internal locus of control:

Audible must have really loved me during Nick’s talk.  This is already on my phone and ready for action:

I was blown away from Nick’s talk, and headed over to one of my other favorite presenters, Brandon Marcello who was talking about Movement 101.  Brandon is intelligent and incredibly friendly, and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him lecture several times.  I popped out of Brandon’s talk to chat with Pete Dupuis, the “guy behind the guy” at Cressey Sports Performance.  As much as Eric is known for being a mutant of a coach, Pete is equally as talented at everything business related.  Pete, your secret is out, my friend!

Eric and Pete headed out for a lecture that Eric was doing, and I popped into Martin Rooney’s talk where Geoff had been since the beginning.

Martin Rooney: The 10 “Abilities” of the World’s Greatest Coaches

I found Geoff in Martin Rooney’s talk, and caught up with some great coaching quotes.  Martin was talking about a framework for becoming a better coach, which is totally applicable to being a better person.  Here we go:

A reminder to keep the goal the goal:

On the education of fitness professionals.  We typically focus on learning more about anatomy, physiology, or business, but there’s something deeper here:

On belief in all of your clients or athletes:

Dan John: Programming After Assessment

This simple delineation from Dan John set the stage for how we can best take care of our high-performance athletes who are competing for titles and records, and our general population clients who are focusing on improving the quality of their lives:

On the value of not going into HAM, Beast mode, setting 12 PR’s,  or beating your Fran time today:

On the quality of work that we’re doing:

Dan John 101:  This will be shared forever, and it will never cease to be of the utmost importance:

A great version of “you can’t out train your diet.”  This is great:

Which exercises are the most important? Dan John has his priorities:

Don Saladino: Creating a System That Will Allow Your Business To Grow

Don is the owner of Drive 495 and Drive 433, both in southern Manhattan.  They’re both a few miles away from MFF, and I love listening to another NYC based coach and business owner.  Don shared several of his secrets for ‘making it’ and he was one of the only presenters to talk about the importance of a social media presence:

Don also spoke highly of time management.  This included the day-to-day style of time management, but also of regularly making sure that you have a plan to perform on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis:

Don’s talk was an updated version of the talk he gave last year, and it was a pleasure to see it again.  Much like Rick Mayo’s talk, seeing something business related for the second time helped me understand the take-home points a bit more, and I have a number of action items for my personal life, coaching at MFF, and in building our Motivation and Movement LAB into something even better.


The afternoon wrapped up with a great Q&A featuring the presenters, and I had several great conversations afterwards. Nick Winkelman chatted a good deal about the work that he’s doing, and teased a future course that I’m very much looking forward to.

I was also able to chat with Brian Nguyen, who was scheduled to present on Sunday morning. When asked about recommended reading during the Q&A, Brian recommended reading the book Crucial Conversations. We read this book at MFF, and the inspired chat that we had was just a teaser of what was to come on Sunday morning.

My Sunday ended with self-imposed hermiticism, and I’m not even sure that’s a real word. I returned to our AirBnB, and put my phone in ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode. Four hours of website adjustments and filling out presenter applications was punctuated only by the doorbell when my Sushi arrived. Praise Seamless.


Here’s something that I think you should know: Sunday is my favorite day at Perform Better.  I find that the Sunday morning crew is always the best; the presenters tend to be the ‘new’ ones, hungry to share quality information.  That hunger is shared by the attendees, who are there through the end to learn as much as possible.

I had this bias going into Sunday morning, and I now have the confirmation bias of the best Sunday ever at a Perform Better.  Here are the final three talks:

Sue Falsone: Pain: How it Affects Mindset and Movement

Sue Falsone is amazing.  She’s a physical therapist and athletic trainer on the highest level, and set the stage for her talk on pain:

One of my favorite talks is that of fitness professionals versus medical professionals when it comes to pain management. Sue helped to clarify roles before she got into the meat of her talk:

Sue outlined several tips for coaches who are working with people who are in pain, and those included:
– Acknowledging and appreciating the athletes hard work during the rehab process.
– Challenging the athletes thoughts about the task in an attempt to motivate and create excitement and involvement
– People who listen without giving advice or being judgmental.
– People who share similar views of the world and life as an athlete.”

If there is one single take-away from this talk, and perhaps the entire weekend, it’s the power of asking better questions.  Asking objective questions about health-enhancing habits is the KEY to how we can interact with clients in pain, how we can foster success in a session, and I believe throughout our relationships with clients.

Pain is a creation of the brain.  How’s this to get your gears going:

This one may seem like a paradox, but for me it speaks to the power of the human mind for creating safety.  Sometimes, physical pain may actually make us feel more psychologically safe.  How’s that one feel?

If there was one take-away that Sue shared to benefit all participants in the pain-management team, it’s this one:

As I reflect on my own practice, I believe that Sue’s talk gave me the most to focus on as a coach. From appreciating the mental models that we use to explain pain, to understanding that something as simple as a question can be an immensely powerful tool in the process of care, there’s a whole lot to work on here.

Ian Jeffreys: The RAMP Warm-UP System: Maximizing Training Efficiency & Effectiveness

Welsh professor and strength coach Ian Jeffreys was an absolute blast.  It was my first time seeing him, and I was excited about his approach and philosophy for how to maximize the work that we do.

On the more-is-better versus more-is-more comparison, Dr. Jeffreys drove us towards quality:

The transition from “warm-up” into training should be a slow change, not an abrupt one.  More gray area allows for more high-quality work to be done:

We’re doing warm-ups that benefit the specific session ahead of us, but also improve long-term performance.  It’s important to look at the warm-up as a time during which we can create skills that beget further skills.  Skill practice is of the utmost importance:

Dr. Jeffreys combined a stoic simplicity and enthusiasm for efficiency into a great example of how we maximize both the effectiveness and the efficiency of the work that we’re doing as coaches, both while training and during the program design process.

Brian Nguyen: Chaos & Control: Unconventional Exercises to Improve Your Clients Consistency & Coordination

Let me get it out there: Brian Nguyen’s talk was probably the best talk that I’ve ever seen at Perform Better.  I don’t make that statement lightly, and I hope that you don’t take it lightly.

Brian gave a talk that I think that every single person in the fitness industry should see. As someone who spent my first 5 Perform Better Summits actively choosing technical topics over business or mindset ones, this is the talk that I needed at the beginning of my career.

Here are a few examples of this powerful talk:

There were other topics that felt more immediately actionable. I mean, how actionable is vulnerability?  There were other topics that had more new content for me.  After all, we focus on vulnerability and communication a whole lot at MFF.  And, for me this was the perfect way to wrap up the weekend.


Brian closed our conversation by having the attendees join him at the front of the room to take a picture. It was equal parts adorable and inspiring. Here is the room that chooses to believe:

After Brian wrapped up his talk, I walked around the convention center a bit, said goodbye to friends, and chatted with Andrea on the Perform Better team who takes care of us at MFF.  Then I got a little sad; the weekend was coming to a close, and it was time to drive back to NYC.

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Thanks to Audible on 1.8x speed and some traffic on I-95, I managed to finish all of James Kerr’s Legacy before returning home.  It was a fitting end to another weekend of magic in Providence.  Thank you all who made it possible, and to the many more I hope to see in the future.

You’ve made it.  Thank you!

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