Hello, and welcome to this review of the 2018 Functional Training Summit on HaroldGibbons.com! I’ve written a detailed review of each Summit that I’ve attended since the very first one in 2011, distilling the most important information from each talk to share with as many people as possible.
Whether you’re swimming in the deep end of the fitness pool or just dipping your toes in the water, there will be actionable takeaways to help you or your clients get better. This year’s recap comes in at 8,181 words and clocks in at about 30-60 minutes of reading to get top to bottom, so let’s crack on with it!
Fitness Christmas, in Chicago
From 2011-2017, I’ve attended the Providence Summit. (If you’re really itching for fitness knowledge, I’ve linked to each of those pieces at the bottom of this post.) This year was different – Mark Fisher asked me to attend the Chicago workshop to help out with his hands-on segment, and my fiancé and I were invited to a wedding in Los Angeles on the same weekend that the Summit was in Rhode Island. I missed my friends in RI, but Chi-town definitely came through.
If you’ve never been to Perform Better, there are 4 presentations to choose between at any given time: 2 Lectures, and 2 Hands-On sessions. Coach Boyle (more on him later) typically recommends that most people will get more out of the lectures than the hands-on sessions, so I usually start with the lectures. If I’ve seen a presenter recently, or have their latest product, I’ll often skip that person to get more exposure to new presenters or fresh updates from my favorite experts.
We flew into O’Hare on Thursday afternoon, reviewed our workshop, ate dinner, and got to bed. Friday morning was the first day of Fitness Christmas, and we were eager to unwrap our presents. Now that you have some context, let’s dig in:
Mike Boyle – Complete Conditioning
Mike Boyle is an absolute LEGEND. His book, Advances in Functional Training, is basically the Bible when it comes to modern strength and conditioning, and it’s the place where I believe every young coach should start to reading about coaching and program design. He has multiple Olympic medals, World and national championships to his name in basketball, baseball, soccer, ice hockey, rowing, judo, and gymnastics, and I point this out because there’s a great diversity in the strength and conditioning requirements of each of these sports.
Coach Boyle shared this quote with us, “The problem isn’t information overload, it’s filter failure,” said by Clay Shirky, and then added his own two cents:
“In the fitness field we are not good filters. We’re more like ADD, shiny objects, Squirrel!”
Coach Boyle is truly my idol when it comes to taking complex, polysyllabic phrasing, and using simple easy-to-understand words. For example, rather than calling it Energy System Development, he calls it Conditioning. Simple, right? Here are a few more quotes that Coach Boyle shared with us during his talk:
Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple.” – Woody Guthrie
“There is what you know and then there is what you can implement… sometimes the two are very different things.” – Jason Weber
When it comes to conditioning work, there are three big obstacles that prevent us from moving forward:
- Traditions and Long-Held Beliefs
- Sports Science Guys Who Want You To Think They’re Smart
- Idiots Copying Other Idiots.
Traditions and long-held beliefs are seen when we’re stuck on the 1970’s era dogma of the Cooper Clinic, saying that you must do low-intensity, long-duration training to build an aerobic base. Aerobic conditioning IS important, but it’s safer and more efficient to develop aerobic pathways with interval training rather than traditional low-intensity work.
Sports Science Guys, the exercise physiology researchers who are focused on cool (to me) things like aerobic power, alactic capacity, and VO2 max, often struggle to simply their research enough for the normal person, which means that as coaches we’re often stuck trying to decipher important but overly complex science.
The sports science guys tend to be biased towards endurance training themselves, which means we should recognize that there’s a component of this that’s personal preference turned into public policy. Boyle reminded us that it’s not about what we like to do, it’s about why we’re using a specific modality with our clients. (For example, Coach Boyle likes chocolate chip ice cream and Bud Light, but that’s not the nutrition recommendation that he’s going to recommend for his clients. Although, he gets so much more street cred in my book. I’m over seeing Kale on Instagram.)
When it comes to “Idiots copying other idiots,” Coach Boyle uses the common sense litmus test: “Would I ask my mother to do this?” (Coach’s specific question was, “Would I give my mother a sledgehammer?” Not unless she’s breaking up the patio.)
To consider what any athlete or client needs for conditioning, it’s important to figure out what bucket needs to be filled. Do they have all of the movement quality or power that they need? We can often fill two buckets at once – warm-up exercises can fill the “movement quality” bucket, while power exercises like throwing medicine balls can fill the “conditioning” bucket.
When it comes to conditioning, we want to make the most of the short time we have with our clients, who are often sitting for 8-12 hours per day. We can best maximize this time by, in Boyle’s words:
Combine interval training and common sense.
It’s safer for most of us to go from short bursts of exercise to longer durations, rather than from longer durations to shorter ones. That’s the simplest possible explanation of the safety benefits of interval training, and one that I really love. Moving at pace for 30 seconds at a time is going to be a lot safer than running for 3 minutes, 30 minutes, or 3 hours at a time. Pretty logical, yea?
By definition, interval training is simply periods of work with periods of rest. It’s simple. The complicated part is figuring out how to do it. Here are three quick guidelines:
- Aerobic? Basically HR over 120 for at least 20 minutes.
- Aerobic intervals? If the heart rate is maintained above the theoretical 60%, it’s both.
- All aerobic work is a byproduct of the anaerobic work that we do.
Coach Boyle recommends using a heart rate monitor for all conditioning, and I have to agree. Heart rate and intensity are very closely related, so higher relative heart rate means higher intensity. Quick access to this data makes planning your intervals a lot easier.
At Mark Fisher Fitness we use a MyZone system in one of our classes, and if you’re not using that software in a gym, my favorite chest strap so far is the Wahoo TICKR X. If you’re tracking your heart rate, use a chest strap – it’s far more reliable for interval training than the optical sensors in wearables. I don’t trust your FitBit or Apple Watch when we’re counting in seconds instead of minutes.
Coach Boyle shared a specific test that they’ve been using at MBSC that I fell in love with, and will be testing out for our own work at MFF soon. (Sorry/You’re Welcome, Ninjas.)
It starts with a 2-mile time trial on a dual action bike, like an AirDyne or Assault Bike. After riding 2 miles as fast as you can, you take the average RPM for the ride, which we’ll call Maximum Aerobic Speed, and then use 120% of that speed as the RPM for your intervals. Pedal at that pace until you reach the desired higher heart rate, then slow down or rest until you reach the desired lower heart rate, then repeat for your desired number of intervals.
Boyle pointed out this seemingly trivial aspect yet important aspect of conditioning:
“Training at or above 100% MAS was the key intensity parameter and how long you spent there was the driving volume parameter under-pinning improvements in aerobic power.” This means that while you may be timing out your rest periods, the really important part of training is the time you spend at or above Maximum Aerobic Speed.
It’s important that our interval training minimizes orthopedic load while maximizing metabolic disruption, so we’re going to prioritize implements like a dual-action bike, slideboard, StepMill or StairClimber, treadmill or elliptical. A reminder:
“You can’t run to get fit, you need to be fit to run”
Even though Coach Boyle is adamant about avoiding distance running (and I agree with him,) he noted that one of the easiest ways to include low-intensity interval training was through tempo runs. It’s pretty simple: At a pace between jogging and sprinting, run a prescribed distance or with desired heart rate change, and then walk back to where you started. This can be done on a hill, a grass field, or on a treadmill set to an incline.
How do you know if you need to include more aerobic work in your programming? Here are some guidelines:
- Resting Heart Rate Over 60.
- Increase in HR of more than 6 BPM between intervals
- Less than 30bpm recovery in 1 minute, 50bpm in two minutes
Gray Cook – My Body, My Problem
One of the co-founders of Functional Movement Systems and the Functional Movement Screen. Gray Cook is another king of simplicity, just like Mike Boyle. I used the FMS in assessments before I was at MFF, and we’ve used it MFF in the past. In full discloser, I’ve fallen out of love with the FMS because I find the zealotry of the corrective-exercise community to be a hindrance to the progress of the industry, but that’s a separate thought for another blog post.
Gray actually mentioned that he’s spent a lot of time reminding people that they’re drawing unrelated conclusions from screens, measurements, and assessments, and by the end of this talk, I fell in love with him again. Let’s talk about drawing conclusions, shall we?
When you go to the doctor, they take your blood pressure and ask you to look at an eye chart. Those vital signs aren’t intended to tell you what is going on with your blood pressure, or your eyes. They don’t predict success, but they do predict failure, and the information provided lets us know if we need further investigation.
That is the metaphor that Gray uses for movement screening. Just as we’ve come to accept the eye chart and blood pressure cuff, we need a standard to use for movement. You’re not going to use a Rorschach test for visual acuity, so why would you leave movement open to interpretation?
Do any of you anatomy nerds see a sphenoid bone here? I do, which makes this a GREAT metaphor.
Gray said something of note that’s important for us on the cultural level:
Managing your body weight isn’t something that you train for, it’s your birthright.
We’re a culture that exercises, but on the world scale, we’re a low-activity culture. In the past, our culture was about physical activity dusk till dawn, regardless of which day of the week it was. We moved boxes in warehouses during the week, then went hiking and fly fishing on the weekend. Physical activity was a way of life.
Now, most of us are completely sedentary throughout the day, and then expect a workout program that totals 3 hours per week to provide our body with all of the movement that it needs. It will never be that simple. My mind melted a little bit when Gray said the following:
Exercise is a supplement. Activity is our diet.
Most of us are living off of supplements.
If most of your nutrition was from pills or portions, most of the world would recommend including a few more vegetables in your diet. When it comes to exercise we can use the same approach.
That’s the culture that we came from: Physically active during the day and at night. We didn’t exercise, we moved throughout the work day, work week, and all weekend.
Just because you exercise doesn’t mean you’re physically competent.
“There’s a difference between an active life and an exercise life. You have to have an active outlet other than exercise.”
This was so incredibly inspiring to me. Be it gardening, hiking, yoga, walking your dog, rock climbing, or using a standing desk at work, it’s important that we build more physical activity into our days.
If you exercise on a regular basis, I’d venture that moving more when you’re not formally exercising can do more for your health and wellness than trying to maximize what happens during the workout.
Gray shared a series of questions with us that we can use to figure out exactly how to figure out what we need to work on. Based on how one would rate themselves as above average, average, or below average with any of these questions, a coach would best be able to figure out how to best impact that clients quality of life. Questions included a ranking of:
- Energy Level
- Energy Level without stimulants
- Movement Pain
- Posture Control
- Functional against an acceptable standard (Functional Movement Screen)
- Motor Control? (Y Balance Test)
- Fitness (Fundamental Capacity Screen)
There was a ton of information in the conversation surrounding these questions, and I’m already excited to integrate these questions into the conversations I have with my online coaching clients.
The very first thing that I’m going to implement is using the PQSI Sleep Assessment, or Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index, which gives insights into your quality of sleep. This might be the biggest area of improvement for most Americans, and I’m not just saying that because the quality of sleep is something I’m actively working on.
Finally, Gray ended with a reminder that we should move up with integrity, not down with reluctance, and that the best movers are the ones who do this naturally:
If you want to see authentic movement, watch a pro – they’ll teach you a lot of stuff.
Everyone in the fitness industry talks about learning from babies. . There's talk about how calmly babies breathe, and how fluidily they move. It's truly inspiring to observe and learn from, but it's not what babies are the best at. . Let us learn from their curiosity, their willingness to learn about the unknown. Babies are the best in the world at being curious, although to be fair, basically everything is unknown to a baby. . And it doesn't stop them in the slightest. . Imagine if we observed the world with the judgement free mind of babies. What if we were as curious every morning as they are? . I'm sure we would get a lot more out of this world, and we'd give it back a few more smiles. . Thanks for letting Bianca inspire @kktapper and I today, @roberta_m_p . . . . #mmlab #babybi
After Gray’s talk Mark and I returned to the hotel, which had a salad bar, which means I could get the only thing that I like more than getting a salad for lunch: Getting two salads! Then, it was back to the conference:
Charlie Weingroff – Efficient Energy System Training: Best Bang for Your Buck
Charlie Weingroff has an incredible knowledge base to draw upon, incredible experiences as a physical therapist and strength coach to give context with, and he’s loud. Very, very loud. He’s a polarizing personality, and I love having a chance to learn from him.
He’s one of the few Perform Better presenters that I see on a regular basis because each year his talk is updated, providing insight into what he’s been learning in the last year. He continued kicking ass by sharing this:
If we could attack these four major qualities in our fitness systems, we’d be more robust:
- Mass of your endocrine glands – Need a good hormonal profile.
- T-Cells – a good immune system.
- Type of heart that is consistent with the type of activities that we do.
- Oxidative capacity in as many muscles as possible.
A fitness program that delivers this will create the most robot athlete possible, just as the greatest athletes in the world in the late mid to late 1900s came out of the Soviet Bloc and had these four physical attributes.
Charlie picked up on a cliffhanger from last year, discussing the significance of two technical terms that most of us last discussed in 9th-grade biology: Hypoxia and Acidosis.
These are the targets to the training program that delivers the adaptations that we’re looking for. We need to find methods that are legal (not steroids) and safe to create a powerful stimulus.
Additionally, we want to maximize the robustness of the entire human system. The heart of the powerlifter or the marathon runner is probably not as healthy as one that lives in the middle of these performance extremes. We want to maximize the abilities of our heart muscle, just like each of our other muscles. There are Type I and II muscle fibers in each muscle, and we need to put them together so we can perform well as often as possible.
Charlie noted that we get there by intelligently organizing our training:
“The best way to train is in some sort of interval where there are distinct lows and highs.”
Lactate is your friend. Hydrogen ions are the enemy.
Acidosis is from unintelligent training or unintentional load management.
Under acidic conditions, contractile tissues don’t contract enough, and movements become inconsistent. This is when fatigue sets in, and fatigue is typically what makes things go wrong. Injuries are an example of things going wrong.
Charlie noted that in the scientific literature, what we colloquially call “trigger points” are actually known as areas of Spontaneous Electrical Activity and that these areas tend to spontaneously become active in acidic conditions.
He also laid out a very straightforward model for planning out the workouts that develop a good hormonal profile, immune system, heart, and oxidative capacity. Check this out:
- Compound Lift
- 1-5 Singles > 90%
- 4-8 reps to failure
- Even amount of sets.
- Explosive Cyclic Repeat
- 6-15s Bouts (Without degradation of power)
- 20-40 Minutes
- COMPLETE HYPOXIA is key for hormonal profile.
- Hitting maximal lifts is the greatest stimulus for resilience.
- Compound Lift
- Explosive Cyclic Repeat
- 2-8 Bouts in a Series
- 1:10 Work:Rest Ratio
- 15 Minute Rest Between Series
- Only do 80s 1x per month for permanent adaptations in heart and diaphragm.
- Explosive Cyclic Repeat
“Do Whatever Wednesday”
- 45-60 minutes
- Fundamental Mobility / Motor Skills
- 45-60 minutes
- Compound Lift
- 7-24 Singles <70%
- 4-8 Reps to Failure
- Half Volume From Monday
- Explosive Cyclic Repeat
- 6-15s Bouts
- Compound Lift
“Bill Starr Friday”
- 3 Compound or Explosive Lifts
- 3-10 sets of 3-20 reps.
- Power, Upper, Lower
- Olympic, Jump, Medball
- Lower, Push, Pull
- <80% on all lifts.
- 3-10 sets of 3-20 reps.
- 3 Compound or Explosive Lifts
“Do Whatever Weekend”
- 45-60 minutes
- Fundamental Mobility / Motor Skills
- 45-60 minutes
The overall schedule of this week is “High, High, Low, Medium, Medium, Low.” If you really need to prioritize what this looks like for your personal schedule, here’s how to do it:
- Monday, Thursday
- Monday, Tuesday, Thursday
- Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday
I crashed pretty hard after Charlie’s talk, so returned to the hotel to take some notes and meditate, which turned into my most needed nap of the year. I would have seen Dr. Stu McGill, so I attended his hands-on during the next session.
Stuart McGill – Working with the Back Pained Client
I’ve seen Dr. McGill present several times over the years, and his lecture is largely the same each time. If you’re not familiar with his work, he’s a legendary expert on spinal health, and the reason that the best program designers in the world are not doing crunches.
His book, Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, should be in every trainer, therapist, and coach’s collection, and if you’re still doing crunches and sit-ups after reading this book, then you didn’t read the book.
I wanted to see Dr. McGill in action at the hands-on to see how he works in-person, and I truly believe it was the best example of “assessment” that I’ve ever seen. Why? Because it didn’t look like an assessment! If you want to know what he actually does for an assessment, here’s a video from Mike Robertson on the matter:
The movement community that I’m a part of is very obsessed with breaking the body down into individual parts, and it was absolutely inspiring to see Dr. McGill work with volunteers and treat them as if they were real people, rather than body parts. I know this isn’t mindblowing for some, but it was a fantastic reminder to me that the best clinicians and coaches are those who create a safe space for their patients and clients to be in.
There was a gentleness in his voice, a curiosity in his questions, and a genuine jovial spirit that sounds almost stereotypical of a Canadian man with the world’s smartest mustache, but being in the room with Dr. McGill, and seeing him in action, was truly inspiring and educational.
Action step for coaches: Read McGill’s book, watch his videos, and then remember the impact of a warm smile when you’re working with clients.
Mike Boyle Keynote: The “Not-So” Secrets to Success
Coach Boyle did the keynote presentation this year, and while he discussed his personal evolution as a strength coach, there were so many nuggets of life-enhancing wisdom that I couldn’t help but feel like I was listening to Strength and Conditioning Yoda.
A few things that stand out where:
- Read all of the books that you can.
- You can always work harder.
- Be ready to change your mind.
- Never eat alone.
- Make smart investments with your money.
If you ever see a chance to see Boyle give this talk, he has literally 45+ years in fitness and 60+ years in life to draw upon, and I feel like I get wiser and smarter each time I see him talk. I’m 30 years old and have been in fitness for 9 of those years, and listening to Coach Boyle definitely helps me accelerate my learning as much as possible.
I won’t bore you with details of the Friday night social, other than letting you know that the application of interval training also applies to social activities, and you should distinctly delineate between when you’re going hard and when you’re taking it easy. On Saturday night, we went hard.
Sue Falsone – Bridging the Gap from Rehab to Performance
Also on my shortlist of must-see presenters, Sue nails it every time. She spoke about what happens between rehabilitation and performance, which is important to me because I train so many people with a wide-ranging diversity of abilities, from Broadway dancers to those with bilateral hip replacements, and everything in between.
Sue just wrote a new book, and I wanted to see her in action. She reminded the audience that:
“The letters after your name don’t matter, it’s just a philosophy, and we’re fitting the philosophy into the model.”
I have so many sound bites from Sue’s talk that I could probably Tweet one a day for the next year, so I’ll share the most significant knowledge bombs:
“Pain does not go hand-in-hand with nocioceptive stimulation.”
This means that pain is an emotion, an experience, and not necessarily indicative of problematic tissues. Look into the work of Lorimer Moseley for some incredible insights here. There are often areas identified as being the source of pain, and you have to be able to decide which tissue is the issue. That being said, consider this scenario:
People who have had amputations report phantom pain in the limbs that no longer exist. Pain is more complex than something simply happening to our body.
Sue noted that, “When someone’s experiencing chronic pain, we treat them completely differently than people who have acute pain. They are processing pain differently.”
Here are some potential sources:
- Pain associated with active inflammation
- Generated by activation of nociceptors in peripheral tissues by an actual or potentially tissue damaging event
- Pain caused by a lesion of the somatosensory nervous system.
- Change in function of nociceptive pathways
- Central sensitization may be the underlaying mechanism.
Once we identify a pain generator, it’s important to put it into the entire motion segment. The goal is to ensure that muscles are filling their roles, and that we’re able to let prime movers be prime movers, and stabiliziers be stabilizers.
And now, we turn to this short list of a selection of the incredible quotes Sue shared:
“When a prime mover becomes a stabilizer, the body is not happy.”
For example, “The glutes are a great power production mover. The hamstrings and lower back – not so much.”
“If you can’t take that strength and apply it in a powerful way, that’s a problem.”
“Yoga is great for psychomotor control and somatosensory control, but not so good if I want to teach acceleration mechanics.”
“If you’re not looking at biopsychosocial factors in this day and age, you have to.”
“The way you present your intervention to your client absolutely matters.”
“In literature, the “belief” of the coach in delivering the intervention has a direct correlation to the success of the intervention.”
Sue discussed the nervous system and its impact on pain, the rehabilitation process, and overall performance. She noted that the nervous system is like a light bulb. When we leave it on all the time, it’s easy to become burned out, but if we can learn how to turn it off, then it will last far longer, and hopefully shine brighter when it is on.
I’ve spent my entire life teaching people how to move, but I haven’t taught anybody how to rest. If we do not balance autonomic nervous system, or at least consider it in our interventions, we’re missing something. Your body doesn’t know good or bad stress, it knows stress.
When it came to soft-tissue work, Sue asked about periodization: We alternate our training stress when we’re training hard, so why don’t we do this during recovery activities?
Cupping can be a great modality to create a distraction force rather than a compression force like foam rolling or manual therapy, and the resulting microexplosions can lead to the loosening or destruction of adhesions between tissues.
Is it better or worse than foam rolling? No idea. But, it’s different, and our body responds very well to things that are different.
Sue also noted that when somebody is locked into a sympathetic state, using active techniques like manual therapy might not be as effective as techniques like breathing or stretching, which tend to drive us towards a more parasympathetic state.
Out feet have a major impact on how we sense the world around us, and while unstable surfaces are used in a clinical setting, Sue reminded us about the benefit of unEVEN surfaces for most of our development.
“Unless you live in California, it’s unlikely that the ground is going to drop out from underneath you. We need to spend more time on even surfaces, reacting to uneven surfaces.”
Finally, as we got closer and closer to discussing performance, Sue reminded us about the importance of controlling the environment. We could have a specific training plan completed in two different environments with completely different outcomes. Lighting and music have a significant impact, as does weather.
Running a marathon on a very hot or very cold day can drastically change the times, even though the task at hand is exactly the same. This also happens in our training sessions, and exposure to more diverse environments ultimately builds more variability into our system.
Sue wrapped up with an all-encompassing concept of Functional Training, reminding us that the goal of functional training is not to perfect the movement, but to the organism multiple ways to complete the task safely.
This means that we need to create redundancies, to allow for functional variability that develops the ability to create a task in any environment. I often hear the quote that “Amateurs practice until they get it right, and pros practice until they can’t get it wrong.
Let’s add this: Great coaches create an environment that develops the abilities to not get it wrong.
Dan John – Economics 101 & The Strength Coach
If Yoda was built like a linebacker, Yoda would be Dan John. I suppose he’s more like a Gandalf, in that case. Anyway, I think that Dan John is essential reading, listening, and conversing for all fitness professionals, because he has the gift of simplicity like nobody else.
A confession of bias feels necessary: I’ve always loved Dan’s work, but considering that his brother-in-law Geoff is a fellow MFF coach and one of my closest friends, I take Dan’s work a little bit more seriously now.
Yes, Dan talks about fitness, but more significantly, he speaks in philosophies that are as quickly applied to our overall happiness as they are to our program design. For example, he has a “go-to” decision-making matrix that he uses to grade all of his decision:
Pareto’s Law – the Two Test Tubes
If an activity requires 20% effort and 80% benefits, it gets an A.
If something requires 80% effort and 80% benefits, it gets a B.
If something requires 20% effort and 20% benefit, it gets a C.
If something requires 80% effort and 20% benefit, it gets an F.
This simple system can be applied to anything, from relationships, to jobs, to program design. If you can take an honest assessment of a situation, and cut out the relationships or roles that are graded an F, you free up more time and space for the A’s, B’s, and C’s.
It’s no wonder in this case that Dan has been talking about the most effective programs being the simplest programs for longer than I’ve been alive. You don’t need fancy equipment, and you don’t need fancy exercises. You need to consistently do the work, and that simplicity becomes the challenge for most of us:
Dan reminded us that as a collection of coaches, we’re still digging ourselves out of the 1970’s hole that lifting weights means bodybuilding. Lifting weights does not mean that somebody is doing bodybuilding.
Lifting weights can help develop muscles, and someone with well-developed muscles may compete in bodybuilding, but they are not the same. As we strive to educate each other, our communities, and the world at large, it’s important to focus on the biggest picture possible: We’re exercising to improve the quality of our lives.
Dan shared that the word “fit” comes from the old Nordic, and it means “to knit.” When we are working on our fitness, we are quite literally working on connecting our health, longevity, fitness, and performance.
“Health is the optimal interplay of the human organism.”
Todd Durkin – CONTAGIASM – Building & Scaling Your Brand to IMPACT the Universe
Todd Durkin is exactly what the strength and conditioning industry needs. He has so much energy, so much passion, and he’s so damn loud, that it’s impossible to be in a room with him and not get excited about being a coach.
I say this as someone who’s a quiet note-taking cynic at fitness events, who wants to sit at lectures and get information, regardless of presentation style. It’s a fantasy bubble I’ve created, I know. Todd consistently breaks that bubble.
His talk, titled CONTAGIASM is about using your gifts to create contagious enthusiasm so that your energy and persistence can conquer all things.
“Your body build and spirt all live so close to each other that they will catch the disease of each other… they are contagious.”
Seeing Todd in action at a lecture is what an evangelical Church must feel like, and I’ve seen enough videos of him coaching to know that when he is “On,” then he is definitely ON.
Here are his 10 Points of Contagiasm:
1) Your company is a representation of your energy. As you go, so goes your business.
- 3 Things you must do:
- 1) Eat right.
- 2) Train Hard.
- 3) Have a personal development practice.
2) Obesss on your #1 Job!!
- What is your #1 priority?
- What is the job of your product/service?
- What does it do?
- How does it make it easier to do “x”?
- What is your brand promise?
3) You can only GO as far as you GROW!
- Get new clients.
- Increase the average transaction size.
- Increase the frequency in which your clients come in.
4) Hire the right people and drive culture. You must be great at:
- Letting Go!
5) To get 10x bigger, you have to give up what’s good because it’s not allowing you to be your best.
- If it’s wasting yoru time, energy, money, or resources, get rid of it.
6) Build your platform to scale your message
- What is it that you want to create in the next 1-3 years?
- What is your message?
7) What is your Moonshot Idea & then create your vivid descriptions.
- What is your Big Hairy Audacious Goal (25 years from now)?
- What is your moonshot idea?
- Where do you want to be in 3-5 years?
- Where do you want to be in 1 year?
- Where do you want to be in 90 days?
- Where do you want to be in 1 month?
- Where do you want to be in 1 week?
- Where do you want to be in 1 day?
8) Your network determines your net worth!
- Who are the top 25 people you would love to connect with?
- WHO can help you scale fast?
9) What are you willing to die for?
- POnce you are willing to die for something, then you can really start to live.
- Seek purpose, not profit.
10) Who do you want to be a hero to?
It’s easy to skip through Todd’s 10 Points of Contagiasm like it’s a quick-fix, success checklist, but it’s truly a comprehensive list of how to get it done. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy, but if you dive into Todd’s work, he’s on to something strong. He also quoted my beloved Randi Zuckerberg, so that was exciting:
After Todd’s talk, Mark and I visited a restaurant across the street where we had our 3rd salads for the weekend. This whole “eating more vegetables” thing ends up being pretty easy to do when you stick to ordering salads when you go out.
Pat Rigsby – The Future of Fitness Business: the Blueprint for Success in a Changing Market
Pat Rigsby dove on the challenge of making sure that every coach is experiencing in the rapidly evolving market, which likely feels like you’re building a house on a cliff in California. His biggest note about creating a stable business was to be client-centric.
- About the clients, not the workouts. They want to be happy!
- WE are going to take care of the people in our 4 walls.
- We are in the business of helping clients succeed.
- Community – events, partner and connect outside the gym.
- Recognition for clients everyday.
- Don’t build around the tool because it will change.
The goal of a coach is to help their client come back and do it again tomorrow. That means it’s important to celebrate each small victory and success, and that unlike team sports, everyone SHOULD get a trophy.
As coaches, we often get focused on particular implements and become attached to our tools, but Pat reminded us that, “You don’t care what your mechanic uses, you care if they fix the car.” It’s important that rather than focusing on what we want to do, we build around what won’t change:
- People will always want to lose weight, look and feel better and ultimately become better version o themselves.
- People will always need accountability.
- People will always do better with coaching.
- People will always want their solutions delivered as conveniently as possible.
- People will always want to feel like they got great value in return for their investment.
- People will always want to belong to a community that makes them feel connected and valued.
- People will always want to be made to feel important.
If you have a finger on the pulse of the online training or marketing world, Pat’s advice is almost annoyingly simple. And that’s what makes it perfect. It’s a lesson in being brilliant at the basics, something that most coaches, myself included, often overlook.
Greg Rose – Unlocking Mobility: How to Create Flexibility That Lasts
If I have a single complaint from the entire weekend, it’s that Greg Rose shared too much information. (Please note that this is a very good thing, even if I spent 75 minutes next to Kevin Carr thinking about exactly how thorough Greg is. It was AMAZING.
Greg shared a wide range of issues that can limit flexibility, as well as how to assess and adjust for them. For example, we start with the joints before soft tissue. How do you know the difference?
If you feel it more on the contractile side, it’s the joint. If you feel it more on the elongating side, it’s not the joint, it’s the fascia.
If range of motion is limited in multiple planes, that’s a sign that it’s a joint issue. When the joint is the issue, you use either distraction or compression to address the issue. Examples include:
- Overhead Carries
- Farmer’s Holds
If it’s not a joint issue, the next stop is the connective tissue. This includes fascia, the joint capsule, ligaments, and tendons. Ligaments and tendons have about a 4% capacity for a stretch, so this is the lowest hanging fruit of the soft-tissue world. The biggest focus here is going to be on the fascia.
Greg reminded us that to best influence the fascia, we need long duration static holds. Fascial stretches done dynamically do not stretch the fascia, and these stretches aren’t about individual muscles, but about fascial slings. It’s not a tight psoas, or hamstring, or shoulder, but about the entire sequence of muscles being able to move freely. If you really want to dive deep, check out Thomas Myers’ book, Anatomy Trains.
Dr. Rose called joints and connective tissues the “Cats and Dogs,” meaning that the vast majority of people are going to have issues with flexibility here. That being said, there are a handful of other factors that can be significant. For example, sleeping postures can have a massive impact on our organism, and I was surprised at Greg hard-lining belly sleeping:
Consider some other things that can impact your mobility, like chemical changes within the body:
Chemical changes in mobility:
- Inflammation creates mobility problems.
- Cold or Flu
- Diet / Nutrition
- Bacterial / Viral
- Environmental Factors
What about this one: The food you eat may influence your mobility. Dr. Rose suggested a 3-5 day fast, during which you test your mobility.
If your mobility improves while fasting, you have a chemical inflammation that’s reducing mobility.
Dr. Rose suggested a food sensitivity test so that you can truly know which dietary factors are having an impact on your ability to move well. Other factors include the type of exercise that you’re doing or not doing, and how they effect blood flow throughout your system:
Here’s another great comparison that you can use, should you consider the breath of these variables:
If Static Stretching helps you, you have a structural problem.
If dynamic stretching helps you, you have a chemical problem.
That’s a damn easy assessment that everyone can use to really take inventory on their body, even before getting nitty-gritty having bloodwork or a full clinical movement assessment performed. I’m very excited to explore more of Greg’s work, particularly with a focus on how to integrate it into warm-ups, cool-downs, and homework that we offer to Ninjas or to my own personal online clients.
Q&A Presenter Panel
The question and answer time with the presenter panel is always an interesting one, because the significance or depth of the questions varies greatly. The ones that I enjoyed are below:
Online Coaching – Jason Glass and Todd Durkin
Jason Glass and Todd Durkin tag-teamed this question to remind the audience that it’s probably the most important to get people together in person, but that online coaching can help build your community out of the gym space and support what you’re doing.
How do you get people to do exercises/things that they don’t want to do?
Mr. Mark Fisher handled this one, and said, “I tell them that it’s okay to not do the exercise, and they usually eventually come around.” This supports Mark’s lecture discussion on creating a safe space for everyone that you’re training.
Any advice for kickstarting, something you wanted to know at the beginning of your career?
Alwyn Cosgrove recommends doing 5/3/1 every 90 days: 5 Books, 3 Online Courses, and 1 Live event. (HG Note: If one of those books is actually 5/3/1 then that’s extra awesome.)
Josh Henkin recommended finding a coach who has a program that inspires you and following them.
Rob Rodgers recommended learning about technique first, then learning about periodization, and then finding a meaningful specialization to dive deep into.
Todd Durkin also pointed out that Alwyn Cosgrove was literally sitting on the stage taking notes at the same time, and that is an example of someone who’s striving for excellence. Alwyn and I later had a conversation about this, and I’m going to share that story in a future post.
Do you still foam roll? (I’m pretty sure Mark Fisher actually asked this question.)
Emily Splichal – I use Myofascial release for inhibition then pair them with activation techniques to influence the neuromuscular system.
Josh Henkin – Use it if you need it, but it shouldn’t be PR level.
Ingrid Marcum – Keep it under the pain level so that it’s not sympathetic and making you tighter. That defeats the purpose of it.
Sue Falsone – Any tool is a tool. It’s not your philosophy. Start with WHY. The literature says that foam rolling helps with DOMS and subjective feedback.
Stuart McGill – I tell my people to stop because I see most of them due to instability related lower back pain.
Greg Rose – I use foam rolling for the right reasons.
What are things that you’ve removed from your programming as you learn more?
Most of the coaches shared specific exercises that are too taxing on our joints or are prone to putting people in undesirable positions. There was also a beautiful piece of context from Jason Glass:
The philosophy and principles you use to prepare for sports are important. If you have athletes who have to perform in vulnerable positions, you should train your athletes to be able to withstand those positions.
What’s something that’s helped you with presenting and mentorship?
Martin Rooney, Todd Durkin, Alwyn Cosgrove, and Stuart McGill all discussed their personal practice in becoming better speakers and presenters. They each have a variety of recommendations, but using Toast Masters seems to be the best starting place for public speaking, and I know that Mark Fisher has really honed his craft there.
Check out Toast Masters to find a club near you.
There was a series of questions that I didn’t quite understand, but I did pull out a gem of a prioritization reminder from Martin Rooney:
“We get most of our results by controlling what we put in that hole under our nose and getting 8 hours of sleep – What are we focusing on that’s not important?”
That evening Mark and I visited Morton’s Steakhouse for dinner, and there was a lesson to be learned: Scotch and Chianti are far stronger when you’ve only been eating salads for three days.
We ventured back to the hotel and went straight to bed to prepare for Mark’s talk on Sunday morning.
Mark Fisher – Coaching Conversations: The Missing Tool (Ninja Baptism)
Each of Mark’s talks were titled “Coaching Conversations: The Missing Tool,” but the hands-on workshop was actually a big-picture overview of how we do things at MFF.
After an introduction, Mark turned it over to me so that I could teach the attendees our introductory class, called Ninja Baptism. We’ve designed Ninja Baptism with four major goals in mind:
- Have a great first experience; Help Ninjas feel welcome/ safe/ comfortable
- Teach Ninjas about the cultural nuances of MFF; including our values and phrases
- Give Ninjas a high-level overview of the basics of movement
- Continue their education on fitness basics; which we support via their strategy session, automated email campaigns, Facebook Group, etc.
In Ninja Baptism we educational essentials, such as “You can’t out-train your diet,” “The spine is happiest when it’s neutral,” and “Pull the Dragon’s tail, but don’t get burned.”
(That last phrase is not the one that we actually use, but if you’re interested in vulgarity, reach out and I’ll tell you what we actually say. We basically want to teach that intensity is important, but too far leads to injury or overtraining, and we don’t want that.)
MFF abides by Alwyn Cosgrove’s seminal piece, the Hierarchy of Fat Loss, and you can learn a ton about both our programming and culture by reading two articles that I’ve written for the MFF Blog:
- “Is Your Workout Plan Designed to Actually Burn Fat?“
- “Your HIIT-Only Workout Plan is Failing You – Diversify Your Fitness“
Those two pieces provide a great deal of the context that Mark and I shared about our work at MFF, and will be very useful if you’re considering how to improve programming for yourself or your clients.
Robb Rogers – Training for Dollars and Training For Fun
This was my second time seeing Robb Rogers present, and I was in awe of the wisdom that he shared with us. Robb has decades of experience to call upon, and he did an incredible job of making things as simple as possible.
For example, he showed us a series of manual therapy releases that are often used in a clinical setting, but most trainers can’t do because of our scope of practice. Robb had a self-massage version of each of them so physical therapists and personal trainers can give themselves homework.
Robb noted that in the strength and conditioning setting, you have a captive audience – athletes have to be there, and they’re using their training sessions as a chance to improve their performance. This is different from the personal training setting, where people are choosing to spend their hard-earned money on training with you, and you have less programming autonomy. Basically, there needs to be more buy-in during general population training.
I’ve noted in my own presentations that the number one program design variable for me at MFF is attendance. If our program design team writes incredible programs but Ninjas aren’t working out, then there’s no benefit. We need to find the balance between intensities, striving for regular success so we can make the most of our training time.
Something that Robb pointed out that echoed what Sue said on Saturday morning was that being foam rolling has an impact on the nervous system, there’s a chance that it’s overly stimulating for some people, and makes them less flexible. Here’s a simple test:
- Touch your toes three times. Be aware of what it feels like.
- Spend 3-5 minutes foam rolling hamstrings, glutes, upper back.
- Touch your toes three times again. What does that feel like?
If you feel looser, foam rolling before your workouts is probably a good idea. If you feel stiffer, foam rolling before a workout that requires more flexibility might not be the best idea. Soft-tissue work is still useful, but maybe at a time when stiffness won’t negatively affect your movement quality or performance!
One of the notes that I took from Robb which is a great reminder on the programming front is to take an inventory of the total number of reps in a program and make sure that they’re balanced between pushing and pulling exercises. It doesn’t have to be even on a given day, but across a week or month, we’re the most likely to be balanced if those numbers are equal.
The vast majority of people push more than they pull, in life and in the weight room. If you’re doing more push-ups or bench presses than rows, make those even. If you’re doing more squats than deadlifts or leg curls, make those even. It’s a simple rule that keeps us on track for long-term sustainability!
Mark Fisher – Coaching Conversations: The Missing Tool
This 75-minute lecture does not do justice to the amount of work we put into our coaching at MFF. Mark did a truly fantastic job simplifying the process to give actionable takeaways, including these 3 Superhero Skills:
- Empowering Questions: Encourage sharing and dialogue. Promote curiosity.
- Empowering questions are open-ended. They start with the words:
- What, How, Where, and Why
- Power Listening: Listening deeply and beyond the need to relate.
- Monologue Listening
- How does this apply to me?
- Reflective Listening
- What is this person saying?
- Power Listening
- Who is this person speaking to me?
- Validating: Normalize feelings. Create a sense of safety and belonging.
- Validating a person’s experience enables them to feel ‘ normal’ for having those feelings in a particular situation, providing safety and belonging.
That’s where it starts, and Mark reminded the audience that at MFF we dedicate hours of our weekly Team Meetings to reviewing these skills and constantly refine our coaching eye.
I’d be remiss to remind you that Mark and his non-sexual life partner, Michael Keeler, also run a company called Business for Unicorns that offers a number of courses, including a two-day workshop and coaching program about this very topic. If you’re truly committed to coaching greatness, follow that link and find out more!
Let’s wrap it up!
If you’ve made it this far – thank you. Thank you for caring, and thank you for being curious. I’m committed to the fitness industry getting better, together, and I’d really appreciate you sharing this post with anyone who you think would benefit from reading this material. Thank you for sharing with anyone you’d like to bring on this journey!