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Guy Leahy is currently serving as an exercise physiologist in Tucson, AZ. Leahy is a member of the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine), NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association), and is Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® (CSCS®) certified. Leahy is the author/co-author of over 30 professional articles, including original research which has appeared in publications such as the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, TSAC Report, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, Nature, Science, and Scientific American. Leahy is also a columnist for the TSAC Report.
Leahy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org | Connect with Guy Leahy!
1. What tactical population do you currently work with?I currently work with active duty Air Force and Air National Guard Personnel. I also occasionally work with reserve units.2. How did you get started in the TSAC (Tactical Strength and Conditioning) field? My first job out of graduate school was at Edwards Air Force Base, located in the Mojave Desert just north of Los Angeles, CA. I was there for approximately three years. This was during a period of time where the Air Force was transitioning its exercise science duties from active duty to civilian positions. I knew the position was going to become available, so I kept watch for the official announcement. This was very difficult to do back then, because the Internet was still rudimentary, and online job websites were uncommon. I had a phone interview for a position, but did not hear anything for over three months. I figured I was not selected, so I decided to move closer to Seattle (I lived in Bellingham, about 90 minutes north) since the job market was better there. I picked out an apartment near Seattle and rented a moving van. Three days before I was scheduled to move, I received a call offering me the position. I later found out I was the second choice; the first choice candidate had turned down the offer due to the fact they lived far away. I think that is an important lesson for new graduates; be prepared to move anywhere for that first job. 3. What resources do you utilize for continuing education? Are there any resources your recommend staying away from?My primary source for continuing education is conferences. I have attended and presented at the annual TSAC, National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), and American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) conferences this year. The networking opportunities are very important and they are easiest way for me to acquire most of the continuing education credits I need to keep my certifications current. My first online resource is the National Library of Medicine (PubMed.) It is a great website to begin information searches, plus many abstracts have links to free articles. For those PubMed articles that are not free, I have had great success in acquiring those by writing the article author and requesting an electronic copy. I also utilize many NSCA online publications, such as the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (JSCR) and the TSAC Report. I have occasionally found some hard to find research gems on Google Scholar. A good website for just keeping up the latest general science/health/fitness news is ScienceDaily.com. This site has summaries of a variety of research articles, and the original research paper is usually cited, so I can look it up if needed. Another site I have found valuable is the Patient Guides on eOrthopod.com. No one particular site, though I do scrutinize websites with a “.com” extension closely. There are some great .com sites (NSCA.com being one) but there are also some that I would be very careful about. I regard websites with .edu, .gov, and .org extensions as less likely to have accuracy issues.4. If you where hiring someone in your field, what would you look for? At a minimum, I would look for someone who has a Bachelor’s degree in the field (e.g., exercise science, kinesiology, physical education). I would also like to see a certification such as the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® (CSCS®) through the NSCA or the ACSM Health Fitness Specialist (HFS). A candidate that had both would be particularly attractive, at least on paper. A paper published in the JSCR in 2002 found that personal trainers who possess a Bachelor’s degree, and either a certification from the NSCA or ACSM were strong predictors of knowledge in the field. This same paper found that years of experience, by contrast, were not related to field knowledge (1). 5. Please describe the regular duties included in your position?I write exercise prescriptions, teach physical activity classes, and present seminars on a variety of health and fitness topics. I also conduct fitness and body composition testing. Other duties include attendance at monthly meetings and preparation of various statistical reports. 6. What are the two most important things you have learned; that you wish you knew when you were starting your career? I have already touched on the first thing, which is the importance of taking that first job, regardless of where it is located. After you have established a career, then take where you want to live into consideration. The second thing is that I wish I had a better idea of what it was like to work inside a military installation. It is a very different environment than any other place I have worked, and it took me about six months to figure out how things were accomplished, and who I needed to talk to for help in successfully completing goals. 7. What recommendations would you give someone who is looking to start a career in TSAC? The primary advice I have is to join the NSCA and become involved in the TSAC program: Read the online publications, comment on the forums, attend the TSAC Conference, and attend the TSAC Special Interest Group (SIG) meeting at the NSCA Annual Conference. 8. What do you believe are the top three physical requirements for this population that must be addressed in a proper TSAC program?1) Injury prevention; 2) Strength/load carrying capacity; and 3) Aerobic capacity. Injury prevention is high on the list because injuries directly affect readiness, both at home and while deployed. Even an extremely fit tactical athlete cannot perform optimally if they are injured. As I say all the time, “broken airmen can’t fix broken jets.” Therefore, training has to be designed in such a way that it improves injury resistance. Strength/load carrying capacity is second on the list because most tactical athletes have to carry loads and strength is an important component of this task. Aerobic capacity is also important since it contributes to the ability to sustain activity for an extended period of time and it also contributes to improved tactical abilities. 9. What steps do you go through when writing a program for the population you work with? I look at their medical histories, particularly their injury history. Many of the airmen I work with have injuries they are trying to recover from, so I spend a lot of time designing programs that will allow them to train safely though an injury. I have a one-on-one with them to discuss what they want to get out of a program. I ask about their work environment and how much time they have to train. If they have a history of not performing well on physical fitness tests, I design training specific to helping them improve the component which is their weakest. If they have a body mass index (BMI) suggesting that they are overweight or obese, I schedule an appointment for a body composition assessment to determine their body fat percentage. 10. What are some critical factors in getting tactical athletes to buy into a strength and conditioning program?The first critical factor is for the tactical athlete to see improvement. In my experience, most of the time a lack of positive results is due to training errors, such as training too much or too soon. If they can see improvement, it becomes self-reinforcing. A second critical factor is communication. Like any specialized field, exercise science has its own distinctive terminology. A challenge I encounter is to translate that information in such a way that an airman “gets it.” For example, when I talk about resting metabolic rate, I do not use field-specific jargon. What I tell airmen is, “if you think of your body as a car, resting metabolic rate is your car’s idling speed. It’s the amount of gas in calories your body is burning sitting in the garage, with the engine turned on, but the car’s not going anywhere.” Unlike my Master’s degree, my Bachelor’s degree is actually in television and film, and I believe this is one area where my undergraduate degree has been helpful for working with tactical athletes.