by Eric McMahon, MEd, CSCS, RSCC*D and Dr. Paul Comfort, PhD, CSCS,*D
Coaching Podcast May 2020
Paul Comfort, program leader for the Master’s degree in Strength and Conditioning at the University of Salford, talks to the NSCA Coaching Program Man...
Paul Comfort, program leader for the Master’s degree in Strength and Conditioning at the University of Salford, talks to the NSCA Coaching Program Manager, Eric McMahon, about his desire to continuously learn through practical application and research in the field. Topics under discussion include creating the post graduate program for the University of Salford, being a founding member of the United Kingdom Strength and Conditioning Association (UKSCA), and the complexities of technology in the weight room. Find Paul on Twitter: @PaulComfort1975 or Instagram: @PaulComfort1975 | Find Eric on Instagram: @ericmcmahoncscs or Twitter: @ericmcmahoncscs
Paul Comfort, program leader for the Master’s degree in Strength and Conditioning at the University of Salford, talks to the NSCA Coaching Program Manager, Eric McMahon, about his desire to continuously learn through practical application and research in the field. Topics under discussion include creating the post graduate program for the University of Salford, being a founding member of the United Kingdom Strength and Conditioning Association (UKSCA), and the complexities of technology in the weight room.
“Find out why certain training interventions, methods, dietary interventions, et cetera are working, and then almost build that back up to the whole body. And then keep refining that process.” 10:10
“But certainly when you're in a situation with a group of other coaches, don't just jump in and offer your opinion all the time. Listen to what people have got to say. There's a huge amount that you can learn from other people.” 22:04
“You've got to look at that in those different scenarios and the different sort of context of what they're actually discussing and why. But I think that's the biggest thing is to listen, learn, and be critical of everything you read and everything you hear.” 23:56
“Whereas if you stare at the device while they're performing the exercise and they either got a higher or lower velocity, you have no idea why they got higher or lower velocity. They might have had awful technique or they might have had really good technique. So you've still got to coach the individuals that these devices aren't a substitute for coaching.” 29:58
[00:00:00.72] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast episode 79.
[00:00:05.13] But certainly when you're in a situation with a group of other coaches, don't just jump in and offer your opinion all the time. Listen to what people have got to say. There's a huge amount that you can learn from other people.
[00:00:16.44] This is the NSCA's Coaching Podcast, where we talked to strength and conditioning coaches about what you really need to know but probably didn't learn in school. There's strength and conditioning, and then there's everything else.
[00:00:27.51] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast. I'm Eric McMahon. Today our guest is Dr. Paul Comfort, a program leader in strength conditioning at the University of Salford in Manchester, England as well as an adjunct professor at Edith Cowan University. Paul has applied experience as a strength and conditioning coach and sports scientist with a number of sports, including rugby and lacrosse, over the course of a near 20 year academic career. Paul, welcome.
[00:00:51.06] Thanks, Eric.
[00:00:52.57] Yeah, so I'm really excited to have you on the podcast, having heard you speak on a number of topics that are really relevant in the field right now. The use of weightlifting derivatives, isometric mid thigh pulls, jump assessments, using cluster sets, and AELs or accentuated eccentric loading. One thing that comes to mind for me is that as an academic, you stay very connected with the coaching process and practical elements of programming that benefit athletes. To start, would you just talk about your position at Salford from teaching, research, and working with some of the local teams?
[00:01:29.82] Yeah, no problem. So I've now been at Salford for just over 12 years. And it was a great move for my career, because they've got such strong links with lots of local sports teams. If you look on the map of where Salford is, it's within greater Manchester. So within a few minutes drive, we've got Manchester City Football Club, Manchester United.
[00:01:51.33] Within an hour, we've probably got 90% of the rugby league teams in the UK with a relatively short commute, because the UK is tiny compared to America. And then we've got a few rugby union teams. You mentioned lacrosse as well. So the English lacrosse team are based in the Manchester area as well, although they come from a slightly wider area.
[00:02:12.95] So the move to Salford meant that I could actually develop myself and work more with athletes and some of the local teams that the university has strong sports partnerships with. And at the same time, it took me into an environment where there were lots of people that I could learn from as well.
[00:02:30.47] So I'd felt the institution I was at previously, I'd sort of grown and developed as much as I could. So for me, personally, it was a great move to be able to learn from some other people that had a lot better knowledge and skills and understanding of the more sort of mainstream biomechanics and physiology but also the practical aspects with giving me the ability then to apply that with some of these different teams.
[00:02:52.61] So when I started at Salford, we had an undergraduate degree in sports science. No postgraduate programs. So I developed the postgraduate program in strength and conditioning, which is now in its 10th year, which is going really well, which is fantastic. And it's meant that I've ended up doing more and more of the postgraduate teaching and less and less of the undergraduate teaching, although that's really only happened in the last two or three years. Which also allows me to focus more on work with our doctoral students. So those on PhD scholarships.
[00:03:26.68] And we've also been quite lucky with the research we've developed in the last 12 years to get to a point where practitioners at some of those local sports teams will come and either take our master's program and do that part time over a couple of years, although they've already done that, and now they've come back and they're registered to do their doctorates with us as well. So that they can actually do some really applied work that we probably couldn't do ourselves, but if they're the head of performance at a specific sports team and they're controlling everything from the first team down, that leaves us in a great position to monitor what those athletes are doing and try and then impact their performance. So normally it's the first year is really just monitoring what their practices are. It's almost an order of their current practice. And then we can look and see what sort of types of training competition and schedule affects their performance positively and negatively, and then we can change that. That then feeds back into the teaching.
[00:04:25.37] And then the nice thing about that is that develops other research questions that be applied practitioners don't have the time to answer but that we can either ourselves or get some of our other doctoral students to answer who are more lab based at the university itself rather than more practical based at the different sports teams. And so yeah, it's a really good position to be in, and it's developed and grown and strengthened over the last 10 to 12 years.
[00:04:53.02] And as you already mentioned, we've got really strong links with a range of different teams. We have the England lacrosse team training at the university for about three or four years. And we had some of our master's students and some of our undergraduate students embedded in providing the strength and conditioning, even though it was a national team. They have no headquarters, no base to train from. So they came into the university a couple of evenings a week to train and do their actual strength and power work.
[00:05:19.93] And then our students went off to their practice sessions where they were doing the technical and tactical training and did some conditioning with them as well. And I sort of coordinated that process, which was a really interesting process to do with the students so heavily involved and the level of enthusiasm but also the sort of naivete that you get as well. It's a national squad, but to all intents and purposes, they were an amateur squad as well.
[00:05:46.53] And then at the same time, we've got similar sorts of setups with one of the rugby union teams in this area, Sale Sharks, where we've now got I think it's six people that have studied with us embedded within their team who also have numerous undergraduate and master students on placement with them each year. So that's sort of developed organically and, again, allows us to collect a lot of useful data, monitor that performance, and feed it all back into the teaching that we do with the students and then get the students hopefully by the time they get to their sort of final year of their undergraduate degree to be working in that environment, practicing, and applying all the skills and the knowledge that they've learned but in that real world environment. We can give them examples of that while we're teaching, but it's still not the same as being in that environment and seeing all the nuances that happen in a real world applied sporting environment.
[00:06:42.40] Yeah. So go back to the beginning for yourself. What inspired you to pursue this career as a professor and researcher in strength and conditioning? Was it your athletic background or something else?
[00:06:54.10] No, not really. I played rugby at school. Picked up a few niggling injuries. Dislocated my shoulder multiple times. And after rehabilitating it and going back into trying to play again and I think it was the first tackle I went into dislocated my shoulder again. I thought it was probably worthwhile sticking with the resistance training and not sticking with the rugby any further, because it puts you out of everything for such a long period of time.
[00:07:18.78] So at that point, strength and conditioning wasn't an established profession in the UK. I'm probably showing my age for some people out there now. But you could be a fitness coach for a sports team, but it was paid hourly. At that time, it was all personal training.
[00:07:37.41] So I initially got qualified as a personal trainer, worked in a gym, and then as strength and conditioning became more and more mainstream within the UK, there's still no strength and conditioning qualifications in the UK at that time. It was just the only thing you could do was the CSCS. I then started my master's degree and started to learn more about the performance aspects of it and applying that.
[00:08:04.27] And I was originally started off working either with athletes who were paying for sort of personal training on a one to one basis or I was working with normally, hopefully none of them listen to this, but lazy, overweight businessmen with a lot of money that were willing to pay a lot of money for personal training on a regular basis but would still eat the wrong food, drink the wrong drinks or too much. And that was fine, but it was tedious. It was working with the athletes that was really interesting. So I was sort of pushed off in that direction.
[00:08:36.51] Then after doing my master's degree, there was no full time work in that area. So my first role was at Southampton University where I started working teaching all the sort of fitness components on a sports science degree. And really, it just developed from there.
[00:08:53.52] From then on, I wanted to get into research more. I was seeing that I enjoyed doing the bits of research on my undergraduate degree and my master's degree, and I wanted to get into that sort of aspect of things more, but still really enjoyed working with the athletes. Because the easiest way to develop new research questions is to be around athletes, coaches, whether it's strength and conditioning coaches or the technical coaches, because they'll fire so many questions at you, most of which you can't answer, because the research hasn't been done in some of those areas. It's getting better and better.
[00:09:25.92] But that really sort of gave me the passion to want to do more of the research but try and keep it in as applied environment as physically possible and almost reverse engineer the way that a lot of traditional professors will look at let's do something at the most minute level of detail so we can control everything. So we'll look at a single cell in a Petri dish in a test tube, and we'll see if something works. And then you try and extrapolate that out to whole body, and it doesn't work.
[00:09:54.18] Whereas I think the best thing to do is let's have a look and see what is working. Then we can figure out why it's working by probably not going quite down to the molecular level most of the time, but we can really break that down and get more and more lab based. Find out why certain training interventions, methods, dietary interventions, et cetera are working, and then almost build that back up to the whole body. And then keep refining that process.
[00:10:19.98] If you go talk to people in a sports team about why they should do certain types of training and you're thrown in too much science, they just glaze over and switch off. They're not interested. And I think the nice thing about having to teach and work with athletes and coaches is actually it's the same thing. You've got to have a really good level of communication with those individuals and be able to maybe switch it on and talk with all the technical terminology with a team doctor.
[00:10:47.52] But with some of the athletes, you've really got to dumb it down. No disrespect to some of those athletes, but we have athletes in some teams who they're lucky if they've got a high school education through to people that have got postgraduate qualification. So your communication skills are essential.
[00:11:06.64] But yeah, I really got interested in the area just almost by accident from personal training, realizing I enjoyed working with athletes more than normal population, getting my first job lecturing in a university and realizing there were lots of questions that still hadn't been answered, and enjoying that research process myself. It took a while to go all the way through that process and being in an environment that I'm in now where really I could dedicate quite a bit of time to answering those research questions. But it's certainly been a nice journey and a nice experience.
[00:11:40.79] Yeah. So you touched on strength and conditioning in the UK. And as many coaches in the States, I don't necessarily have that perspective, and I think that's something that we can share with our listeners for this podcast. Other than being involved with the NSCA for a long time, you're a editor on our JSCR journal. You've spoken at our national conference.
[00:12:07.16] You are also a founding member and accredited member of the UKSCA. For our listeners, the UKSCA is the professional body of strength and conditioning in the UK. Paul, can you speak to the system and career path of strength and conditioning in the UK and how that's changed over your career?
[00:12:25.92] Yeah, well, like I said, when I started, there was no organization there. So when the UKSCA first started to establish itself and wasn't even quite sure what it was going to be called initially, I got copied into a few emails from some of the people that were trying to put it together and asked if I'd be interested in being part of the membership from the very beginning. So their key focus was really to provide qualifications for strength and conditioning coaches and promote strength and conditioning within sports teams.
[00:12:59.39] Because at that point, like I said, a lot of the time you had people that were referred to as a fitness coach. You're still going to some of the different sports teams at the moment. They might have fantastic facilities, but there's not really any strength or power work that we would really class as strength or power work, especially within the football, or as you guys would refer to it, the soccer teams. With rugby league and rugby union, they generally love lifting weights, throwing weights around, maybe don't do as much conditioning as they should do.
[00:13:27.86] So the UKSCA when it first set up was trying to do sort of both things. It was trying to promote the benefits of appropriate strength, power, conditioning training, plyometrics, changing direction, everything that we would normally do as part of our role as the strength and conditioning coach within all the different sports teams and the sporting organizations. So they were trying to promote across the governing bodies for sports but also within sports teams.
[00:13:57.56] And at the same time, then developed a sort of package of workshops that you could attend. So there was a weightlifting workshop, a plyometrics, change of direction, and agility workshop. And at that point, I think it was just those two that they established. They've expanded it further now so that you've got sort of almost like entry level qualifications. And they put on a different additional sort of programming workshops as well to make sure that people understand the programming.
[00:14:27.56] But it's changed noticeably in terms of initially when the UK Strength and Conditioning Association set up, most people were passing all the practical components and struggling with the examination, the written examination, because they were all practitioners. They were all out there doing this stuff. Whereas now, there's, I think, I'm pretty certain from the last down annual general meeting at their conference that the exam has the high pass rate and the practical aspects have the highest fail rate.
[00:14:59.49] Because now it's the reverse. You've got people coming straight out of university or while still at university that understand all the theoretical aspects. So can answer all the biomechanical and physiological and anatomical questions but can't necessarily coach. So that's something that they really wanted to develop and make sure that the qualification was as robust as it can be.
[00:15:24.06] I actually remember they ran some almost test sessions and test examinations with a range of practitioners, very, very well respected practitioners. And I can remember being I think it was the first UKSCA conference and having a couple of those individuals saying to me, oh my god, this is the most difficult process I've ever been through. And I had my assessment the following week. So that didn't leave me in a very good position. I was a little bit nervous about it at that point.
[00:15:55.26] But it's nice to see how much things have developed and that it is now a much more recognized profession in the UK. You need your qualifications. Now we're in a situation where pretty much every strength and conditioning coaching job will state within that that it has a requirement for the UKSCA accreditation as a minimum, and it will normally also state that it needs the CSCS as a desirable. It used to be CSCS was essential. But now that the UKSCA accreditation have become far more recognized, that's what everyone seems to be going for.
[00:16:38.51] At the same time, those jobs will also be advertised as wanting people with experience. And again, that's the biggest problem now is making sure that sort of the students that we're developing at the university gain the experience as well as have the sort of book smarts and the practical skills that we assess and develop. And we make sure that they're assessed on all those different components I've already mentioned, the plyometrics, change of direction, et cetera.
[00:17:08.16] But trying to then-- that's easy to coach one of your peers or one of your friends that you're at university with. It's a little bit different when you go out and you've got a group of 10, 20, 30 big, scary rugby players who are in their mid 20's and you're a 19-year-old. So it's really a case of trying to develop those individuals. And that's one of the things that the UKSCA try and do within their sort of workshops as well, try and make sure that it's not just a one to one side of things but that you get an understanding and an appreciation for what it would be like in the real world.
[00:17:44.62] So one of the things they suggest after doing the workshops with them is actually go out, spend six months volunteering, working, getting that experience. Put together your case study, which is part of the examination process. So a real case study of an athlete or a group of athlete you worked with over I think is a minimum of a 12 week period. So you can show a series of cycles of training, which really helps. But again, that's the point that sometimes people fall down on, because they haven't necessarily got extensive experience in those areas. It's definitely a competitive environment, because there's so many people wanting to get into those areas.
[00:18:27.89] And some students may think I'm speaking out of turn when I say this, but actually there's a lot of students they think it's their God given right to get a job at the end of doing a degree. And in the UK it's well over 20,000 people come out with sports science related degree per year. There aren't 20,000 jobs.
[00:18:44.73] And it will go, and we've got lots of good examples of our students who've really gone out there and excelled and maybe done two or three placements in the final year of their degree and got experience in rugby union football and got a job in one of those areas. Two years later, they've got a job in another area, purely because they've got that experience. And that's one of the things that the UKSCA has also been working to try along with BASES, the British Association of Sports and Exercise Sciences, to try and reduce the potential of people being exploited with volunteering and internships where on the odd occasion it's-- I say the odd occasion. It's probably more than that.
[00:19:24.60] But where people have ended up doing a full job role but on a voluntary basis without really any supervision to develop them. It's just been free labor, which obviously that's not what I'm referring to when I said you need go out and you gain experience. You should be supervised by somebody. There should be a qualified and more senior strength and conditioning coach assisting you with your development so you can actually really grow up as a coach. Learn from your mistakes, learn from what they do really well, learn from their mistakes even.
[00:19:56.81] And that's sort of where it is at the UK at the moment that they're trying to iron out a few different issues in those areas. There's not really any legislation to prevent people being exploited, but it's making sure that people understand they need experience, but actually this is sort of a placement that you would do as part of your studies. This is an internship opportunity, and this is what a job is. So if you get given a job description and you're on a placement as a student, that's not what you're there to do. You're there to learn from people, not to do a part time job role.
[00:20:34.12] That's interesting. And there are so many parallels between kind of the developmental pathway for coaches here in the States and what I'm hearing from you. I just think it's so interesting that the timeline of the UKSCA. I mean, that started in the early 2000s versus the late '70s for the NSCA. And many of those challenges are still present with our community.
[00:21:05.30] And I think thinking of it globally and thinking of our strength and conditioning community globally, it kind of makes us global citizens of the field where we can work to grow this thing and improve this thing across the board. And I really appreciate that perspective that you brought there. What's the best advice you got as a young coach or student, something that maybe you still hang your hat on today or think of where you're at?
[00:21:41.45] It's probably to take a step back and listen rather than jump straight in with both feet. Depending on the scenario and the situation you're in, but take a step back. Listen, listen to people's opinions. And it doesn't necessarily have to be just listen. Read a variety of texts, of journals. Listen to a whole range of podcasts, webinars, et cetera, and be critical of it.
[00:22:04.98] But certainly when you're in a situation with a group of other coaches, don't just jump in and offer your opinion all the time. Listen to what people have got to say. There's a huge amount that you can learn from other people. Sometimes with a huge amount more experience than you, sometimes just with a different experience. They may be the least experienced person in the room, but it's a different experience.
[00:22:24.59] And you can learn from that and draw parallels between what you do and what they do. And sometimes it will challenge all your views and your philosophies, which is great. That's what we should be doing. From a sort of scientific point of view, every time you do research, you're trying your best to disprove your hypothesis. And if you do that, you end up with hopefully a half decent study.
[00:22:47.82] And I think that the key thing is, if I was giving advice to somebody, would be listen. Really listen and pay attention. Don't be on your phone and stuff at the same time while people are talking, whether it's at a conference or wherever it might be. But listen, take stuff on board, and also be critical of it. Think why are there different perspectives. It doesn't necessarily mean if you get opposing viewpoints.
[00:23:15.09] You can listen some fantastic roundtable discussions on podcasts where people have different opposing viewpoints, what appear to be opposing viewpoints, but actually when you really start thinking about it, they're sometimes talking about exactly the same thing but just using different terminology or different sets of circumstances. And that's sometimes what people don't do.
[00:23:36.72] And I'm guilty of that myself at times. You listen to somebody that you really respect speak and you think, that's brilliant, that's perfect, that's the way we should do it. And then once you hear three or four people give a contrasting view, you suddenly start thinking, hang on a minute. Maybe what the other person said isn't completely true. But again, it's context. You've got to look at that in those different scenarios and the different sort of context of what they're actually discussing and why. But I think that's the biggest thing is to listen, learn, and be critical of everything you read and everything you hear.
[00:24:11.86] Yeah, absolutely. You have a book, Advanced Strength and Conditioning, An Evidence Based Approach. And I wanted to ask you about the balance between kind of some of the technology advancements in the field versus sticking to more traditional training models. And I do have a follow up question on that one once you answer. But it kind of relates to how you said a lot of things in the field really aren't that different. And when you're talking of the science and advanced based training, strength conditioning, at what point does a young strength and conditioning coach are they ready to progress into that level of knowledge from your perspective?
[00:24:59.25] Well, I think you can you can progression level of knowledge once you've got a really good understanding of the basics. But I think the bigger thing is when do you start implementing more novel, interesting technology based interventions with your athletes, et cetera? And you've got to do the basics and do them well and do them consistently. And if you keep doing it consistently, athletes will get better. That doesn't mean you do the same thing over and over again.
[00:25:25.48] So I would imagine 95% of strength programs I've written for people will have a squat in them, a squat of some variation. But if you start thinking about how many different squatting patterns you can do with an athlete, one athlete might go back squat, one a front squat, one a split squat, one a rear foot elevated split squat. They're all squatting patterns.
[00:25:49.02] But you'll do that based on the individual and the needs analysis you've conducted for the sport, but also for the individual. So you've gotta do the basics right and do them well. If you're training to maximize strength, you've got to be putting a decent amount of load on the bar. If you're training for power, you need to have the intent to move the bar or whatever object it is you're moving as quickly as possible.
[00:26:12.10] So the basic stuff works. It's not difficult. You do need enough variety in that to make sure your athletes don't get bored and the training sessions don't become tedious. Because you can write the best program in the world, but if you're athletes are bored of it and not motivated, they're not going to put the effort in. And we know that the intent during those exercises is key.
[00:26:30.90] So if the athlete's not fired up for it and not focused, there's going to be a limitation. And I suppose technology comes in there to some extent. You can help with motivation. You can assess barbell velocity to see if they're getting at a maximal intensity effort. And that can give you an indication of whether they need to add load, decrease load, et cetera.
[00:26:54.56] Although as I'm sure most people are aware, there are limitations with most velocity monitoring devices which attach to a barbell, whether it's a position transducer, whether it's something with an accelerometer. None of them are as reliable and accurate as we would like them to be, unfortunately. So you've got to take some of that with a pinch of salt. It also depends where that device is attached to the bar, whether the bar's moving symmetrically or not, whether the device is attached to you, et cetera.
[00:27:25.28] So I think one of the key things is you can do that for-- you can introduce that type of technology for motivation, for feedback, for monitoring to some extent, but you really need to know the limitations of those devices. And you also really need to know how they work. Do they really do what they tell you they're doing? Most of the times no, they don't, because a lot of people that have developed the devices don't have a detailed enough understanding of some of the underpinning bar mechanics to know really how to make the calculations that they're making.
[00:27:58.76] Things are improving. I think the majority of manufacturers of anything used for velocity based training were involving practitioners and people with research experience to enhance that, which is great. But if you're measuring velocity, measure velocity. Don't calculate power from it. It throws in a whole range of other issues with the assessment of power, how you've calculated it, how the device or the algorithm's built into the software.
[00:28:25.79] Actually calculate acceleration and velocity and then power. Is it the mass on the barbell? Is it the system, so the barbell plus your body mass? Notwithstanding the fact that the barbell moves a different velocity to your system and to the system-- your mass and the system.
[00:28:44.61] So think about it. Your center of mass doesn't move very quickly when you do a snatch. That barbell moves extremely quickly. But the mass of your system, so the combined body mass of you as an individual and the barbell, moves at a different velocity. So for research purposes, we'd have to assess the velocity of the system. So you'd need a force platform and a barbell, something attached to the barbell won't cut it for really calculating power applied to the system.
[00:29:17.13] But if velocity improves, we know that you've got more intent in there. There's probably more power. There's gotta be a greater impulse. So there's an adaptive response. But don't try and use a device for something that it's not really doing accurately. We know that if we keep the simple stuff of velocity, that works.
[00:29:36.09] But again, that doesn't have to be used all the time. You can't obsess over it. And the other thing to do is if you're using those devices, make sure you're not looking at your smartphone or the iPad or whatever it is you're using. Watch the athletes. You're a coach. Coach the athlete. Watch the athlete. Give them feedback. The numbers are going to appear on the screen and that device afterwards.
[00:29:57.16] Whereas if you stare at the device while they're performing the exercise and they either got a higher or lower velocity, you have no idea why they got higher or lower velocity. They might have had awful technique or they might have had really good technique. So you've still got to coach the individuals that these devices aren't a substitute for coaching. That's just sort of one example. So there's nothing wrong with introducing these things, but get the basics right first. Don't obsess over barbell velocity on exercises where it doesn't matter. So if you're doing it with a bicep curl, who cares?
[00:30:33.14] Yeah, so take this now to your students or young coaches or experienced coaches that want to be more well versed in these technologies and these more advanced types of assessment and training. what's the common starting point? And I think we hear velocity based training. There's force based jumper assessments.
[00:30:58.07] And I've heard you speak as well on cluster sets applied to different training phases and training goals. Is there kind of a common starting point that you introduce with your students from a scientific standpoint? What's the best path to really wrap your head around this type of content?
[00:31:18.89] Well again, I think the main thing is to make sure they know they've got to get the basics right first. And then from there, you can expand that out into other options. So the velocity based training you can add once you know they're competent at form in the exercises safely and effectively. Don't get an individual on a new exercise to obsess over velocity, because their technique is going to be pretty poor at that point. So you've got to make sure that as a coach, you've got all those other things in place first, all the foundations of that, then you can start looking at during the key exercises where it may be important.
[00:31:52.74] Cluster sets is normally seen as quite an advanced technique. But actually you can use it with beginners. It's a really good way of coaching individuals or pairing them up or getting them in small groups on a platform. You can have people doing six repetitions on an exercise of your choice. Let's say it's a power clean. You do your first two repetitions.
[00:32:15.64] The other two people that are working with that athlete can give them feedback. That reinforces good technique for them, and they give the athlete who's just done the two repetitions one coaching cue to emphasize on the next exercise. And that can be make sure your hips don't lift too quickly on the first pull. It could be it's controlled, it's rhythmical, but it's almost graceful. There needs to be a bit of aggression once you've passed the knee and once you hit that second pull phase. You need a bit more aggression in there. So they can give them some feedback.
[00:32:46.17] They've had a slight pause. They've been given a bit of feedback to help improve their technique. Then they do another two repetitions. That feedback can be reinforced if they did it better. And sometimes you'll find as you go for a set, technique get better. Whereas with beginners, sometimes you'll find without any feedback or without clustering it and dividing the set up in that way, you normally find that technique will slowly start to deteriorate as they fatigue.
[00:33:14.26] And if you're doing a high number of repetitions, it can get a bit tedious for them. So if you do a few repetitions, let them have a quick break, give them a couple of coaching cues either to improve technique or to improve movement velocity or whatever it might be, that can actually be a really good way of doing it and enhancing both their technique acutely but also chronically, because they learn, and they learn what good technique is, and it enhances their performance longer term.
[00:33:42.20] I suppose the other thing to consider is certain things you probably wouldn't do until they are strong enough to do them. So things like accentuated eccentric loading where you can use weight releases, bands, and chains, and nice novel devices. But you've got to be pretty strong and pretty stable to really get the benefits out of them. And if you're using those sorts of devices, there's quite a lot of additional load that needs to be put onto that bar. So you definitely want somebody whose technique is pretty spot on at that point and is confident and competent at lifting near maximal loads or actually the loads can be above your maximum concentric with some of those methods during the eccentric phases.
[00:34:22.22] So the basics work, and there's confidence in knowing and employing that with your athletes, and I think that's something that just through a coaching career, you always go back to that. And it's definitely reassuring to hear from a research perspective. And I think some of these technologies are so cool, and they're so trendy and exciting, and we're getting so adept with our measurement of very specific power related variables.
[00:34:54.91] And it's that balance between the traditional strength and conditioning and kind of this new age, new technology sports science push, which maybe is fueled by just the accessibility to tech. Not that the science hasn't been there, but it's really interesting and it's really engaging, and I really do try to bring that conversation to our coaches. So that is a great area.
[00:35:26.49] I'm not suggesting people don't progress athletes on with proofs of these concepts and use velocity based training earlier. It can be used in the right way. But you can't get distracted from the primary goal of the training that you're doing. And that's generally what happens. People will think, oh, my athletes are getting bored. They're not progressing. Most athletes if they're progressing at a steady rate won't be getting bored with what they're doing. Just mix it up. Change a couple of exercises and educate them. Don't preach to them. Don't lecture them. But slowly drip feed information to those individuals so they know why they're doing what they're doing. And they'll get better.
[00:36:05.05] Sometimes it can be a case of throwing something in for the novelty. Making something more competitive with velocity and those sorts of things. And that's a really easy way of doing it. Even something as simple as getting somebody to get their iPhone and video somebody so they can see the technique and giving feedback. We find with some students you'll get one or two students that you're watching them move and you're coaching them and you're cuing them, and everything you say they do the opposite.
[00:36:33.12] But as soon as you film them and they can see what they've just been doing and how different it looks to what it should look, they suddenly get better. So not everybody learns in the same way, and I think we're getting more and more people being influenced by what they see on social media. But also understanding how to use the technology that can be in your hand to their own benefit, and they'll learn from those sorts of devices. But again, it's using it at the right time in the right way and getting the basics right first.
[00:37:03.36] So building on this look into measurement and kind of the current state of things in the field, on your CV you've had experience both as a strength and conditioning coach and as a sports science. What do those roles look like and how are they different from one another or how are they the same from your experience?
[00:37:26.65] There's definitely blurred lines between them. And it depends on the organization that you end up working in and the size of the organization. You can go into some of the bigger teams, some of the biggest sporting organizations, and they'll have multiple strength and conditioning coaches, multiple sports scientists. You go into some of the smaller ones or not even smaller ones, ones where they're just not as financially they're not as rich, and the head of the performance could be the sports scientist and the strength and conditioning coach all wrapped up into one.
[00:37:57.85] So it really does-- I don't think there is a clear distinction between the two if you're looking at the stuff that we've been discussing. If you've employed somebody as an exercise or sports physiologist, fine. They're going to be off doing predominantly your VO2 max type testing. They might be doing a range of other type of things with them, with blood, saliva samples, et cetera.
[00:38:23.90] But the day to day monitoring, I even see in some sports teams the physiotherapists are the ones that are actually doing the jump testing, the velocity based monitoring, and they're doing this on a day to day basis when people come in for treatment and for diagnosis of whatever may be wrong with them at that point. So there's definitely blurred lines there.
[00:38:43.19] I suppose a strength and conditioning coach needs all of those skills of assessing, monitoring performance that would have previously been left more to the sports scientist, because that's going to inform that practice sometimes on a day to day basis, sometimes just at the end of its training cycle when they re-evaluate, depending on, again, the sort of resources they've got at their disposal.
[00:39:06.86] But I think it's essential that they're not seen as completely separate roles. I think a sports scientist needs to understand what the strength and conditioning coach does. The strength and conditioning coach needs to understand what the sports scientist does if they are distinct roles in the team. They need to understand what the physiotherapist or physical therapist, athletic trainer, they all need to have an understanding of each other's roles and have an open channel of communication.
[00:39:32.69] Otherwise you end up with all sorts of issues with miscommunication not between those individuals necessarily, but how it's communicated with athletes. So I think it's really important that they've got an understanding of what each other does, why they're doing, how they're doing it, and they can work together in a sort of inter-professional manner to make sure they get the most out of everything. And also to make sure that they're not duplicating what each other is doing.
[00:39:57.65] If you've got somebody-- and I have seen this before. You've got a physiotherapist using a blood pressure cuff looking at a groin squeeze, and then they leave the physiotherapist room, go out and see the sports scientist, and they get them on the groin bar or whatever it's being called now to assess adductor and abductor strength on a device, which they've just done with a blood pressure cuff in the previous room, which shows straightaway you've got no communication between those different sub-disciplines.
[00:40:25.47] So I think this it's really important that everyone's aware of each other's roles but also where your role finishes and the other person's starts. But that is different within different sports and organizations. It's a pretty difficult one to look at. I think the underpinning for any strength coach is they need a really good grasp of sports science.
[00:40:47.39] And then they need to be able to coach all those different things which a sport scientist wouldn't normally be doing. So whether that is the change direction, the agility, the conditioning drills, plyometrics, weightlifting, et cetera. They've got to be able to do all that and use that underpinning physiology and biomechanics to inform their practice. The sports scientist normally doesn't end up doing all of those sort of more applied roles in the strengthening and conditioning facility.
[00:41:15.72] What differences do you see when you look at this globally, whether the Australian model or in the UK versus come into the States. Do you see any differences in those job delineations or role delineations with the current state of things?
[00:41:33.18] No, I don't think so, really. I think you tend to see similar overlap between the roles, again, based on size of the organization and the number of people they've got employed. They take on the roles. If it's a small team of people working with athletes, there's definitely more blurred lines between the different roles. When it's a much bigger organization, then you will generally have people who are-- you've got the head strength coach, you've got all the different assistants below them and interns, et cetera.
[00:42:08.94] You might have the same within sports science. You might have the same within physiotherapy. And then you might have somebody as the head of performance or head of medicine performance above them that oversees that whole process. But that's only in the biggest organizations.
[00:42:21.84] So my observation is that it tends to be just based on the size of the organization and money which is available in those areas. So the richer sports tend to have the most diverse number of staff, sort of backroom staff, supporting the athletes. The sports where there's not as much money, where they're not quite as lucrative and athletes aren't on the multi-million pound or multi-million dollar contracts, you might have one person doing the majority of it.
[00:42:48.73] So kind of staying on this global perspective, where does the strength conditioning field fall short in your opinion, and how would you like to see it improve in the next 10 to 20 years?
[00:43:01.00] Great question. I think there's quite a few areas it can improve. One of the easiest things is actually having that open channel of communication and wanting practitioners to question things, challenge what they do. And it's actually really nice. Over the last couple of weeks, I've had a series of Skype calls or Zoom calls, whatever system we were using, with a range of different practitioners in different teams. Normally we'd have gone into the facility and sat down and had a chat with them, but currently we're not allowed out the house.
[00:43:34.65] So I've had a series of conversations with those individuals, but they're monitoring and they're testing primarily within soccer teams where they're thinking or they're hoping that we'll be out of isolation and lockdown situation by the time that pre-season starts for them in June, July time. And they want to make sure that testing, monitoring, and evaluation of the athletes is done the best they can. They've all got force plate systems within their setups across a range of different manufacturers.
[00:44:09.61] And the key thing they want to know is, well, what is the exact testing protocol we do? If we're doing an isometric mid thigh pull or an isometric squat, exactly how do we do it? How do we cue them? What posture do they get into? If we're doing a counter movement jump, do we tell them to jump as fast and high as possible or as high and fast as possible? And then once they've done that, what metrics that they take from it? We've got force plate manufacturers who've got some awesome software which will give you instantaneous feedback and all the numbers you want straight away.
[00:44:40.19] But if they're spitting out-- which is fantastic. It isn't a criticism. But if they're spitting out 100 plus metrics, how do you determine which metric you need or how many of those? Because one isn't going to give you everything. So I think that's sort of the ability for people to challenge their current practice and develop it and evolve is something we really need. The communication side of things, I think, in general, not just communicating with each other but with the athletes definitely needs to improve.
[00:45:11.97] And I think that the industry as a whole really needs to make sure that they are willing to have those detailed discussions. You'll see on social media, on Twitter, on Instagram people getting into full blown arguments with just the ability to use a certain number of characters. That's just petty and pathetic. People really need to stop and discuss things properly. Ask why. It might be a different viewpoint to what you've got, but ask why. Because that's the way the industry and the profession is going to grow most rapidly.
[00:45:49.65] Otherwise what you end up with is people almost trying to disprove the other person. Which sometimes that might work, which is fantastic. But certainly from observing things on social media and that way, I think that's one of the areas that we really need to make sure that things develop, things improve so that everyone can learn from each other. It doesn't matter whose sort of viewpoint you starred with in some of those arguments. You can normally still take away something good from even the opposing side. And I think people have got to open up their ideas.
[00:46:23.41] In terms of the research side of things, I think it's making sure over the next 10 years the research questions are as applied as possible. What we need to do as researchers is be as involved as we can with practitioners who are doing stuff on a day to day basis and find out what are the key questions they want answered. What will benefit them? How can we try and enhance the training, the monitoring, the recovery strategies, whatever it is?
[00:46:52.80] But find out exactly what they want within the constraints, because otherwise we can do some research which we think is fantastic, and then you speak to a practitioner who says, how the hell am I going to be able to apply this in this environment? So we need to understand that environment, which is why what we're trying to do at Salford is try and work with teams as much as possible to do that. And I know there are other institutions around the world and in the UK that do a really good job of that. But I think that's the area that we need to try and develop as much as possible. So we're meant to be undertaking applied research. So we've got to make sure that it can be applied.
[00:47:33.97] And I think that comes through in just kind of seeing and listening to you present, seeing some of your research over the years. I always hear that undertone of the research says this, but the application and we need to get away. I've heard you say we need to get away from the archaic studies from 15, 20 years before and kind of look at the three by three with the Nordic curl and things that-- the more practical application of what you actually need to go with in the applied setting.
[00:48:08.44] And that is so powerful to kind of be able to work on both sides of the research and really get that concrete understanding of the scientific principles and then relay that to the coaches in a way that is usable. So I know in just studying your work over my career, I've been very appreciative of that. So thank you.
[00:48:38.74] So what is your favorite part of strength and conditioning? What gets you up and out of bed every morning and kind of keeps you chomping at the bit for this field?
[00:48:49.28] It's probably going to sound really sad. I think it's just the bit where you can learn. And whether that's learning from reading books, journals, listening to podcasts, whether it's actually going into that environment and learning, watching what they're doing, finding out why they're doing it. Sometimes you go into those environments and people can feel almost threatened with your presence. But I'm never going into those environments to critique people. It's really a case of I want to learn more. I want to be able to spend some time with those practitioners and find out why they do certain things.
[00:49:23.56] I've been really, really lucky in the last couple of years that we've had a few occasions where last year Professor Greg Haff came over to the UK Strength and Conditioning Association Conference and then came and spent a week with us in our lab at the university. And we also managed to get Dr. Jason Lake from University of Chichester across, and spent a week in our lab with us. And we started trying to figure out some different aspects of some research projects that we could put in place. We didn't get half as far as we wanted to, but we all felt like we learned a huge amount from that.
[00:49:57.04] And then I went out to the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association Conference last year and for a week before I was lucky enough to go to Edith Cowan University and spend another week with Professor Greg Haff and his team out there. Again, trying to answer some of the questions that we haven't got as far as he wanted to. And it's just being able to take a step back and sit down and listen to those individuals. And it's not just people that have got a lot more experience.
[00:50:27.07] Professor Greg Haff did a journal club where we had about two or three hours by myself, Greg, and his doctoral students sat down and discussed a journal article and their projects. And you come away from that and you learn from it, especially when you got the PhD students who are at the end of their PhD, who have spent the last three or four years studying one topic so intensely.
[00:50:54.07] I'd love to be able to turn around with my PhD to students at certain times and say, right, on this day, we're going to sit down. We're gonna have a coffee or sometimes we're going to have a beer. You're going to tell me everything you've learned about this topic in the last three months. Because I cannot learn as much about that topic as them by going and reading the 500 articles that they've read. I just don't have time to do it. But they can summarize that. They compress it for me. They can give me the take home messages.
[00:51:18.86] It's cheating, really, on my part, I suppose, isn't it? But you get to a point where you can do that. But it's learning from those different environments. And it doesn't matter who it is. You can learn so much from them. And really trying to learn how you can enhance what you're doing, whether it's as a strength and conditioning coach, as a researcher, that's the bit I find really, really interesting, because then we can develop the field and we can improve practices.
[00:51:46.84] And actually, you don't run out of questions. Because if you think about it, every time you read a journal article, at the end of it, it says limitations and areas of future work. And those areas of future work will always give you three or four different areas, and you only answered one question during the article. So it just grows and expands, and that's the bit, it's really interesting. And then being able to refine that research, talk to the practitioners, attack it from a different angle, they're the bits that are really, really exciting.
[00:52:19.36] I've done it before. I've been sat here for an entire day, sat at my desk at home just reading, just trying to answer a question. And at the end of the day, I've written two paragraphs. That's it. And my wife will turn around and say to me, how come you're so happy? You've just said you've only done two paragraphs. And I'll be sat here going, yeah, but I've read this and I've read this and I've learned this and I've learned that. And it's made me better, made the next bit of research I do better. Which like I said, it probably sounds a bit geeky, but it's actually quite an interesting process to go through. It's almost like being the eternal student.
[00:52:55.64] Yeah. Absolutely. That is great. To wrap up, thank you so much for being on today. How can our listeners connect with you? What's the best way to get in touch?
[00:53:09.67] To get in touch, the best way is to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am on Twitter and Instagram. Couldn't tell you off the top of my head, but I'm sure if you search Paul Comfort, there aren't too many of us with that surname. You'll probably find us or find me. Yeah, and just if you've got any questions, you can contact me via Twitter, Instagram, or the easiest one is, which I check regularly, is my emails. The others, it might take a week before I look at it. Yeah, but always happy to answer questions if anyone's got any.
[00:53:45.74] Dr. Paul Comfort, thank you. You just listen to the NSCA Coaching Podcast brought to you by Sorinex Exercise Equipment. We appreciate their support just as we do all of our listeners. Please take a minute, rate, review, and subscribe for future episodes so we can continue to improve and better serve you, the NSCA coaching community. And if you're new to this podcast and want to learn more about the NSCA's strength and conditioning certifications, you can get all the details at nsca.com/certification.
[00:54:11.81] This was the NSCA's Coaching Podcast. The National Strength and Conditioning Association was founded in 1978 by strength and conditioning coaches to share information, resources, and help advance the profession. Serving coaches for over 40 years, the NSCA is the trusted source for strength and conditioning professionals. Be sure to join us next time.
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