NSCA’s Coaching Podcast, Episode 83: Dr. Trent Lawton

by Eric McMahon, MEd, CSCS, RSCC*D and Dr. Trent Lawton
Coaching Podcast July 2020

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Dr. Trent Lawton, Senior Strength and Conditioning Specialist with High Performance Sport New Zealand, talks to the NSCA Coaching Program Manager, Eric McMahon, about coaching the athletes of the New Zealand National Rowing Team. Topics under discussion include the balance of coaching the individual versus the team, constantly chasing knowledge in the field, and efforts to push forward through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Find Trent on Twitter: @Chad_Bling | Find Eric on Instagram: @ericmcmahoncscs or Twitter: @ericmcmahoncscs

Show Notes

“It's not important to have the ability to run 9.7 for 100, but to actually do that 28 times in some sports.” 7:33

“My job is to create competitive training environments where the people want to excel. So they want to compete off each other. And they need to have the desire to win.” 10:52

“And one trick I tried is, rather than me say "go deeper," they get the force or they get the distance deeper. So we change it to the length or the dip. And I say to them, make that the biggest number you can. And that's the sport of rowing. Row long. So squat deep.” 12:38

“So it's about creating learning to empower that athlete to adapt their training to the situation which they find themselves in. And my role is to help them think about that.” 22:00

“…sometimes the things that we do have to be so simple and obvious that the person connects to it, that the overload is progressed in such a predictable way that it seems too basic. So we need to go the opposite way of making the problem complex, making it so understandable that people can take action.” 32:52

Transcript

[00:00:01.05] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast episode 83

[00:00:04.88] So it's about creating learning to empower that athlete to adapt their training to the situation which they find themselves in. And my role is to help them think about that.

[00:00:15.18] This is the NSCA's Coaching Podcast, where we talk 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.

[00:00:25.95] Welcome to the NSCA Podcast. I'm Eric McMahon. Today, our guest is Dr. Trent Lawton, Senior Strength and Conditioning Specialist with High Performance Sport New Zealand with the national rowing team. Trent, welcome to the show, man.

[00:00:38.61] Thank you very much, Eric.

[00:00:41.20] I think it's really exciting when we have international guests on the podcast. We can learn so much that maybe we don't have access to here in the United States. And just the perspective is a little bit different. And rowing is a sport that we have in the US but has not been well-represented on our podcast. So really excited to talk to you about that here today. And I just wanted to get started by asking you about your background in strength and conditioning and how you got into the profession.

[00:01:11.87] Yeah. So when I started out as a student at university, strength and conditioning was really a new profession. I was at that age and stage where professional sport in Australia had just increased its financing for rugby league, rugby union. And assistant coach roles were often a strength and conditioning-like role.

[00:01:32.17] But also, the Olympic movement in Australia was in response to poor games that funded the Australia Institute of Sport. So academic research and undergraduate programs started to emerge for athletes who were placed at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra.

[00:01:47.80] So I started off in one course of study, as a typical person leaving school-- not quite clear on what strengths to use. And I was actually in an architecture course using the physics and creativity side of my brain. But I was also interested in physiotherapy, which is the rehabilitation part of community or sport-based support. So this sports science course, as it was known back then-- slash exercise science coaching degree-- was my first exposure to the opportunity to work as a profession in coaching.

[00:02:20.74] So I swapped streams after going through quite a rigorous interview process-- you had to have had a sporting background, but you also had to have shown an aptitude for high-performance environments-- and started on that path of study. But there was no jobs. This is in the period where we were in one of these recessions that are going to be quite similar to post-COVID.

[00:02:44.39] So there wasn't a career path, because it was a new course of study. It was probably designed to keep athletes engaged with academic work while they were at the Australian Institute of Sport so they had another set of skills to use post-career. But they also recognized athletes may make, with their athletic experience in the sport, great coaches. So that's how I stumbled across it.

[00:03:07.30] At the same time, the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association was born in the '90s. And I went through their embryo courses back then. The level 1 course was quite a full-on industry course and required you to do on-the-job training or work experience as part of that skill development, which gave me the connections to the industry to get started on the skill sets, and also links with employers. And that's where it all started for me some 30 odd years back.

[00:03:40.65] Wow. So you talked with the ASCA and just the job/career outlook that you faced as you got through your training. Can you speak to the system and career path of strength and conditioning and how that leads towards a broader sense of sport science in that part of the world?

[00:04:03.79] Yeah. So I think when there isn't really a formal occupation for the industry to sometimes have a training framework in place-- that was all evolving. It was really about in-the-know to get to those opportunities where there are-- the ability to use your skills but get paid at the same time.

[00:04:27.34] So it may be-- in my case, I was using skills that were aligned. So I had to work around unpaid sport support delivery and where I could find an alignment with where I could get paid. So for example, lecturing on courses was one way to get some income, and then go out there and work for free, providing those sort of services that would give me the experiences to land one of the professional roles.

[00:04:56.99] This was a big leap from being on the sideline doing stuff with community or high-performing athletes at a national age bracket. But then the income that people were receiving was at the professional level. There's a big, big leap to go through.

[00:05:11.29] So their courses give you the opportunity to understand the big rocks. What are some of the skills that strength and conditioning has to provide in general? But you need to link up with sports, because those skills are tailored. And for example, in rowing, my primary role is to do the strength training expertise. The endurance side of things is entwined with the actual rowing. They're on water doing endurance training, just like a marathon runner is running.

[00:05:41.80] So my skill set is to bring the strength work to that sport. So I have to have a strong understanding of the sport's physiological needs, but also the skills that I need as an employee to add value to that organization's recruitment structure. So that's the kind of pathway choices I had to make, between where I could make money to get experiences and then the skills required to make myself an invaluable part of a team, not just another person who's on the books.

[00:06:13.45] And that's where, when an industry is growing, you've got to look for what it is that people are paying for. So right now, a lot of people are trying to get their heads around how to analyze large volumes of data. So that's a new science that's making that into sport. So it's about finding a way to get to that point where you can get paid to do that job.

[00:06:33.84] Yeah. I do want to ask you about some of the technology and data integration that you use. You completed your PhD back in 2012 on strength testing and training of elite rowers. You work with some really incredible athletes. And I don't know if a lot of strength coaches in the states have a clear understanding of what makes rowers so different or unique, from an athletic standpoint. Can you break down a rower for us and--

[00:07:07.43] Sure.

[00:07:08.16] --from a training and strength and conditioning standpoint?

[00:07:10.11] Yeah. I think if you visualize a volleyball athlete, you've got this fast-twitch fiber, explosive, long-levered animal that can perform some really miraculous one-off peak heights and really impressive power outputs. But it takes time to build that athlete up so they can do that for the duration of a game. It's not important to have the ability to run 9.7 for 100, but to actually do that 28 times in some sports.

[00:07:41.60] That's rowing. Rowing is a sport where you've got the same volleyball guy, but he's sitting in a crew trying to synchronize his work with his colleagues around him. So his preference may be to row short at the front, which-- equivalent here is, you look at the different techniques you see for a deadlift, where people like to start. Everyone has a different preferred biomechanical setup.

[00:08:04.67] Now, imagine both of you standing with your colleague to pick up the bar, the same bar, together-- two different builds trying to reach down to grab that same deadlift bar and stand up together. Well, one tall guy might make the shorter guy take some load at some points. But they've got to keep that bar level. And that's the sport of rowing.

[00:08:22.52] So there's an enormous amount of strength. But the stroke rate that they move is not like what you see with footwork or foot strike in sprinting or in marathon running. It's quite a slow-cadence sport. So it's about 34 contractions per minute, or 34 strokes per minute. So if you visualize two guys working on a deadlift together, they've got to keep that 200-kilo deadlift bar moving together so that the one guy doesn't pick up more work at the wrong point during the lift, which might blow their back.

[00:08:53.74] And they've got to be able to do it faster to complete the set number of repetitions. There's about 240 odd strokes, depending on the size of the boat at their 2,000-meter time trial, essentially, which is the sport of rowing. The first to cross the line completed the 2 K's the fastest. So if they can do 240 strokes but with a 300-kilo bar, they're going to move that boat a lot better.

[00:09:18.25] But what might happen with 300 kilos is you'll see some people shorten up. They don't quite extend their hips at the end of the deadlift. So their row is short, or deadlift short, which means you've given no rep. So what happens-- we don't get in that rep that you'd see the boat slow down. It'd start to what's called check itself. It's losing the propulsion. Although there's a lot of force, it's not efficient. It's not a great way to move the boat.

[00:09:45.47] So when you bring those analogies to the sport of strength and conditioning, you really need to start looking at how people move in the gym. What's the length of each repetition? And what's the cadence, or the rating, at which they're performing their work? But then what's the quality of that repetition? The movement and velocity of each rep? And if you rush the rating, you might find the velocity of which they are moving, or the distance through which they move, drops off.

[00:10:08.66] So it's about controlling the beast to make sure that if you're after a high force and sustaining that-- I'll go back to the analogy of running 9.7 28 times. Well, what do we need to do? We need to adjust the work rate of the lifting in the gym. Then we need to look at the volume of work being performed in the gym so that there's enough high-intensity practice as to how the sport requires that animal to be prepared.

[00:10:33.23] Wow. So taking that-- and how do you quantify that in the gym with your training? And what sort of technology are you employing with your training sessions to engage these high-level athletes as it relates to the sport?

[00:10:52.21] My job is to create competitive training environments where the people want to excel. So they want to compete off each other. And they need to have the desire to win. So that can work against you, though, because you can have an athlete who is at the entry point of that elite squad who's physiologically not as well prepared, but mentally not as well prepared, being maybe younger, or less exposed to continuous pressure.

[00:11:15.98] Learning can only happen when there's a right amount of tension. You don't want it to be such a challenging task, mentally or physically, that the learning can't happen. So my role is to say to people-- for example, in a squat, we use a deadlift before I talk about a squat. The depth of a squat-- well, what could happen if they're trying to keep up is they don't squat as deep, or they rush their reps to get the work done to move on to another exercise that their colleague has just moved to, because they're unable to perform the same work. So the length of those squats is just as important as the weight.

[00:11:49.49] So one of the ways which you could do that is stand there like a parrot saying, over and over, "deeper, deeper." And you become the technology. You are the beep that's saying "yes" or "no." And that's often what happens with strength and conditioning coaches. They stand there like a cracked record repeating the same message. That's not learning, all right?

[00:12:08.66] So you often see people put a band, or a box, or a piece of string across the squat cage. And that gives more feedback. So that's one way of doing it. But then if you're putting the pressure on for competitive training, you might find they bounce off the box, yeah? Or when you take that box away, they haven't learned what that depth feels like. They're just using an automated response. There's not learning. There's just process going on.

[00:12:32.43] So I've used GymAware the linear position transducer measures the displacement. And one trick I tried is, rather than me say "go deeper," they get the force or they get the distance deeper. So we change it to the length or the dip. And I say to them, make that the biggest number you can. And that's the sport of rowing. Row long. So squat deep.

[00:12:55.29] Now, what happens, then, is they're competing with a fixed load-- 100 kilos there on the shoulders. But the person who goes deeper or through a larger range of motion is performing more work. So they're getting a greater physiological benefit. So a person who goes from 50 centimeters to 55 centimeters is increasing their work for that exercise-- doing the same weight, the same number of repetitions, but improving the quality of that work.

[00:13:23.33] And they're learning. They're doing the thinking. They're looking at the numbers, and they're thinking about, what did I do? What was my strategy to get that depth? If I lean forward, I find I lose my balance, so I don't get the depth. If I sit back on my heels, push my knees out wide, and drop into the box, I'm getting the greatest depth. I'm getting 60 centimeters.

[00:13:42.22] Now my work index is going up, but my total length by the load is increasing. And now I'm competitive with that guy who's stronger than me. He's got 200 kilos, but he's only going 30 centimeters or 25 centimeters. So he's really shortened up. So I'm doing the same amount of work by going long and strong versus short and stabby and jabby, I call it.

[00:14:04.13] So in the sport of rowing, you shorten up, you lose that stroke length, you don't propel the boat. We have to use the science in the gym to try and remind them of that task when completing the work in the gym. So that's one example of using a GymAware unit for the length feature, whereas most people, I think, would focus in on the velocity of the concentric load-- even bring that in as well. But there's no point getting a great concentric velocity if the work is reduced-- the shorter range of motion-- in our sport.

[00:14:33.22] That is really interesting. VBT is an emerging topic in the field that we tend to only think about related to explosive power. Looking deeper into the data that is available with each device, VBT may be a little bit of a misnomer that prevents us from fully understanding what it can mean looking at rep quality as a whole, and then making that connection to specific movements that occur within sport.

[00:15:00.11] Yeah. I think it's brought attention to the word "intent." I always say intensity is based on intent. We used to say to people, maximize your intent to move that bar explosively. Well, the position transducers are giving us an opportunity to put a number to that. But intent leads to intensity. So the thing you don't want is to go for the outcome, which is the velocity of that bar, but at the expense of the work.

[00:15:26.65] So I can reduce the distance. So I can work within the range of motion where I'm strongest, reducing the distance. And because I'm stronger, I can increase the movement speed. I get a high velocity. But I'm not achieving the metric that I'm interested in, which is the ability to do work over a large range of motion, and then increase the velocity. So you need to go back and check you're not shortening up to get the result, that the athlete's learning about the depth that leads to the result in our sport.

[00:15:56.94] You touched on the team component of rowing. Are most of your training sessions team sessions? Or does it tend to be more of an individualized training sport at the elite level?

[00:16:06.09] Yeah, that's a good question, because I'm balancing the two. There are sessions where people are sick of training on water with each other that they don't want to have to think as a team player. They just want to get on with their needs. So I've got to balance that out between what's a bit of variety, because it's not rowing. And the key thing they keep reminding me is, the gym is not rowing, so it's already variety. Whereas strength and conditioning, as a profession-- we try and be so creative and always changing it up.

[00:16:35.20] They also like predictability. They like to know that they-- they know what's coming. So they say, well, you've changed the program so much, I can't compare my progress. Rowing is a sport where they know, we're rowing 28K's today. What was our average speed? OK. Now we're doing the same session which is going to stretch it out to 30, and we held the same speed. So they're looking at progressive overload all the time.

[00:16:57.69] So individuals need the chance to work to their strengths, but they also need to be recognizing their weaknesses compared to their peers. So working them against someone-- with someone else. Example of the deadlift-- lifting together-- can really draw attention to that. But it doesn't mean they have to work on the same exercise-- like, two people doing the deadlift by together. It's a great teamwork activity.

[00:17:18.76] But it might be, I go. You go. So you do your 10 reps of deadlifts, and then I do my 10 reps. And we can get that work rate and competitive training environment going. It's still them working as individuals, but they're competing against the work rate of their colleague. And they might be working as a pair to beat other partners in the gym. So we do bring those elements in, because that's how they're used to thinking. And it brings a productivity element to my training that raises the intensity, because their intent is to win.

[00:17:48.48] But their intent needs to be to do the repetitions correctly. So sometimes I do need to back them right off by saying, today is a self-paced session. It's all rehab-style activities. Or, there'll be no time element. It's measured time intervals. So we might put the timer on for three minutes. So you do your set whenever you're ready.

[00:18:08.47] And that really kills the energy of competing, but it slows down the work so that people do quality efforts. So if I put the timer on-- do a set. Three minutes. You've got another three-minute window to do your other exercise or other set. It slows everyone down again, which means the quality of learning and work can improve.

[00:18:29.14] Whereas, if you let them do it without that clock, they'll look at some guy who's just finished his squats. Now he's moving on to his cleans. I want to keep up with him, or-- so it removes the pressure to have to keep up. So we use a clock to slow things down so that the individualization is realized. Otherwise, it still becomes a competition to finish first, or get this done and get out the door.

[00:18:54.97] Yeah. So what are some outside or non-weight-room skills that are important in your role as a strength coach?

[00:19:01.15] So you mean the skill is not that side doing the same thing, but actually thinking about how I operate? And I think one of the things I brought up earlier was being the cracked record or parrot continuing to say "deeper, deeper." Whereas, how can I turn that around to getting them to think about how to learn?

[00:19:17.53] So one of the things we do, as younger coaches, is enjoy the science of training. We're fascinated by physics or the physiological adaptations going on. But the rower or the athlete isn't. They're just there to train. And they're actually interested in their sport. So in some cases, some of them have a fascination for the weight training, and it comes easy to them. So yeah, they have a greater interest. But there's others who loathe it.

[00:19:46.00] So we can give our knowledge and give it in a way that shows our passion and our ability to provide expertise, but we don't want to bombard them in the training sessions. So one of the things that I've had to reflect on is giving enough of an incentive as to why this type of training or session is going to be important, but then recognize it's not going to land on everyone, but also take the learning responsibility of myself.

[00:20:07.93] I never forget a lesson-- when I was teaching, I would always do the preparation of the lecture. But then my colleague said to me, "you're doing all the learning. Why don't you give your students the chance to do that same research and present to each other?" So rather than me look up set rep combinations for strength, power, let the student look it up and then present.

[00:20:29.31] So I've brought that concept back to the weight room, saying, well, what do I need to do in this environment that makes the learning happen by the athlete? And I create an environment where there's training outcomes, but also, they understand more about what they need to do to do it properly so that they can look at their peer and actually check that their training approach is the same as their own.

[00:20:51.18] An example is to think of step-ups. One person's doing step-ups where they're alternating their legs. So left goes up, then right goes up. Whereas their colleague stands on their right leg the whole time and continues to use the right leg. Well, there's two different training effects going on there.

[00:21:07.99] So if they can try both and find that one feels better for burning-- lactate-type responses-- the other one feels better for blood flow-- keeping the blood lactate down-- then I can say to them, we need to back off this session. What can we do? They might be able to answer that question for me. They might be able to experience that session with their fitness, and turn around and apply a modification that achieves the outcome we're after without me doing all the decisions.

[00:21:34.02] And that's important, because on tour, I can't stay on tour for an entire three months that we're in Europe. I might only have a six-week window, at most. A part of what I'm trying to do is also get them to think about, well, this is what we were training and how we were doing it. You don't have the same equipment in that gym. What have you seen that we could do to get close to it? So it's about creating learning to empower that athlete to adapt their training to the situation which they find themselves in. And my role is to help them think about that.

[00:22:04.66] And I'll just end by saying, one other thing I've realized is not every student wants to get an A grade. So there's people in which you invest more time in, who are responding. And what you might need to do to say the person that's not performing at the A grade-- say they're at the fail grade-- and you continue to give them the energy in your gym sessions, you might be taking the opportunity to support the A-grade student.

[00:22:28.08] So that's another thing I have to check myself on, is, trying to get the average up often means bringing the lowest one up. But don't leave the guy who's flying, or the woman who's the high-succeeding athlete, alone at the expense of the energy vampire that might be taking all your continued repeat messages.

[00:22:48.77] So it's about them realizing they're on their own as well, that they've got to take responsibility for their actions if they want to succeed in a high-performance sport, because often you try to band-aid a situation that, ultimately, the coach will say, yeah, they're not good on the water, either. So you're not doing them any justice if you overinvest in them just to be the good guy or to bring the average up. Sometimes the person learns by their failures.

[00:23:13.85] That is very telling of the team dynamic and the strength coach's role in giving the athlete what they need versus what's most efficient in doing the work for them. That doesn't best serve the athlete. In getting to where you're at today, who were some of the biggest influences on your coaching style?

[00:23:32.20] Yeah. Hearing that I guess what surprises me is, if you asked me that question 25 years ago, it would have been about the science. It would have been about the knowledge that underpins the delivery of what I design. But now, it's-- I should reflect back to that example that my colleague said, "you're doing all the learning. You're creating a lecture that shows you know your stuff, but the student lost the opportunity to learn."

[00:24:05.17] So as I've gotten older, and I've talked about leading people-- the coach approach about leading people, making sure you identify the gap, and help them get there but don't do the work for them, that they actually have to be led there-- there's a lot of leadership information that's come out that resonates with that early lesson in making sure the person does the learning and you help them bridge that gap.

[00:24:27.86] So I think back to some of the-- I didn't always do well in the classrooms that had just one approach to information-sharing. A lecture can be a great way for me to get the context. Then you have to go off and read or watch a video. So there's visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles. And a lot of athletes are great at the learning through doing-- the kinesthetic, or kinesthetic. And other athletes have to watch an example. Show me how to do that. And others need to be told, and they understand it, process it, and go and think about it, and do it.

[00:25:02.15] So I guess what really changed my approach is thinking less about the science and more about the education, or the coach as an educator. It was about, what are the learning styles, or what are the philosophies of how we prepare information for people to discover and grow?

[00:25:21.20] Wow. So with our international guests, I like to ask about the global landscape of the strength the conditioning profession. Just getting into that for you, what do you love about the strength the conditioning profession, and what are some areas that we fall short?

[00:25:37.13] Yeah, that's a good question. So I'm currently on a sabbatical doing an intelligence role, which is about gathering information and making it usable so that we can take decisions and redirect our strategies to improve our sports performance. And that's taken me away from the delivery aspect of my role, which I actually love the most-- standing on the gym floor working with groups. And I have quite a few back-to-back sessions each day.

[00:26:06.70] So one of the things I realized is I put a lot of energy in what I do. But there's energy you've got to put into yourself to stay healthy. It's very easy to focus in on doing more by showing-- someone really likes what you're doing, so you think, I'll impress them again and try and find a way to add to that and keep this snowball growing. And what happens is that you end up creating this monster that is actually unsustainable.

[00:26:30.22] And sometimes I look back and I think, that was me trying to show my knowledge and growth. But actually, what they were after was something different. It had to be kept simple and obvious. So I had to reflect on what energies were driving me as a person versus what the role needed.

[00:26:43.50] And there's a bit of tension there, because we want to grow faster than the job. And the industry has slowly grown. But the actual take-up of what it provides has still got to keep up with what the profession wants to provide or does. There's a bit of a tension that goes on there.

[00:26:59.64] So one of the things is, when I look at it, I think, well, what do I miss the most? It was the-- we actually had an exercise we went through as a team where we had to write down our coaching philosophy and values. And in preparation for this, I thought I better have a look at that, because that was done three years ago.

[00:27:14.94] And I looked at it, and I thought, jeez, those things really resonate with what I enjoyed about the job, which was some of the things we've brought up here about helping people to grow and learn, but creating competitive training. I want them to feel the energy and want to be part of it. If I look at that session and think, jeez, I would like to give that a go. I'd like to join in-- then I've done my job.

[00:27:33.54] But often, sport has many barriers and politics. And it's myopic. It gets quite cross-eyed in what its goal is. But it loses context. So we're living through a COVID lockdown right now, and our sports can't train, because we're limiting social interaction. So social distancing is our COVID restriction. So all of a sudden, the Olympic games has been canceled, and our goal has gone.

[00:27:59.22] Our goal as a country right now is to eliminate and eradicate COVID. We need to get the population healthy, and then we need to get the economy back on track so people have jobs. There are areas in New Zealand where snow fields have just had to close, and 50% of the population that supports the tourism is unemployed. So the ski industry and the high-performance ski programs you know in context to what we do, we've got a bigger issue here.

[00:28:29.39] So what for me, when we look at the state of the industry, we're in a real transition time here where we have to recognize that sport is something that's celebrated by quite a privileged group. We have quite a privileged, economically strong country that sends athletes off to compete, and it doesn't always transform the lives of the people on the other end. So that's what's really stood out for me, is, sport keeps us entertained, but it hasn't transitioned people's lives enough.

[00:28:59.87] And one of the things that's probably on offer is the opportunity to use our knowledge and skills to help get our population moving now. Because we're in lockdown, people aren't working. One of the reasons we have high-performance sport is to inspire the nation towards physical activity. We know athletic enrollments go up after the Olympic Games. Everyone wants to be the next fastest 100-meter sprinter.

[00:29:21.80] But what's happened with COVID lockdown, and people aren't working at their workplaces-- they're saving on travel time. And they're also more productive, in some cases, doing their work from home that they've got the flexibility to take up activities. I've never seen so many people active in my community-- walking about, trying to get outdoors in the great weather we're having here in our fall or autumn-- that people are actually active.

[00:29:42.58] And I realize that we've inspired a nation to be active by giving them the opportunity to not focus just on transit and work. So what I would like to think, when we get back to sport, is, we get a real good impact on the community when we had the Olympic Games. But what can we do to keep that community active in ways that are simple and healthy? So there's a bit of a heavy answer. But we're in the COVID lockdown, so I can't ignore--

[00:30:09.56] No, that's--

[00:30:10.44] If you asked me six weeks ago, it would have been a very different answer. But this is our-- we had a pretty heavy meeting, as an all-star team, about the economic realities of where some of our key sports are based. And I can't not leave that meeting 12 hours ago and not have reflected on the fact that 50% of the population is unemployed where we're basing our high-performance ski program. So what a privilege it is to be an athlete during such times where one in two people are walking around without a job.

[00:30:42.42] Yeah, I connect with that, just walking around my neighborhood and seeing people taking walks with their families on a regular basis. It clearly is different, what we are experiencing right now. Even this podcast-- this is the first month of virtual podcast for the NSCA. We've all adapted in so many ways in our work, daily meetings, continuing education.

[00:31:07.17] There are so many opportunities right now, simply because we have the time to engage with keeping that bigger-picture mentality of, it's not just about getting back on the field or back in the water with our athletes. It's about our nations as a whole and the global health crisis that we're facing right now. Keeping that mindset, like you mentioned, is great perspective for all of us.

[00:31:30.96] So this is a podcast where we don't go too deep into the x's and o's of training, but we get into the coaching process. Specifically for young strength and conditioning coaches pursuing the field, what advice would you give yourself if you were getting into the field today?

[00:31:44.05] Yeah, I think I am very open to having people come and observe training and keeping an open door. So I have to respect that it's often a national training center-- so the world's best rowers training here, and they want their privacy. But I often run it past them. Do you mind if this student comes and observes a training session? And it's an insight into a world of the industry that they're going to head into.

[00:32:16.11] And what really comes out is, those who are connected to being a great employee-- it really shines when they show up. You get a sense that this person's wanting to be part of a team, wanting to help. And sometimes there's a person who's just a fountain of knowledge but they're not actually a great person to recruit, because they're more interested in the research. And they haven't recognized that they probably want to get more involved in the academic stream, but they want to be seen as a source of information to add value.

[00:32:48.57] And often-- and I think I've reflected over this in the podcast-- is, sometimes the things that we do have to be so simple and obvious that the person connects to it, that the overload is progressed in such a predictable way that it seems too basic. So we need to go the opposite way of making the problem complex, making it so understandable that people can take action. Whereas, the understanding of what we actually know about the sport sciences is still evolving, and so we can make it a really complex story.

[00:33:23.68] But when you're tired, grumpy, and fatigued, that ain't the story people want to hear. They need to just take action in a way that on the balance of information available is going to be a better and more effective pathway.

[00:33:38.11] And sometimes we're splitting hairs that the two training modes will work. We're not clear which mode might be more effective. But if the intent and traction of the way in which we're training is delivering, then you don't need to stuff around and change it just because there might be a paper that's come out that says you need to do x, y, and z, not a, b, and c. If you're measuring your outcomes and you're moving towards it, there might be something that you're not yet looking at that is the effect mechanism.

[00:34:12.14] So for students who are looking to get out there, it's about getting excited about that evolution in knowledge, but making sure it's so simple that people can take action towards realizing the improved outcomes you're trying to facilitate. So I guess that's what my advice would be for students.

[00:34:29.48] When they come to a workplace, often, they can ask me any questions. And make the complex simple for them to understand is what the experience is that someone who's been doing the work can offer. But then, after that, they need to actually stop, listen, and think about how that can help them get a job. They've taken that years of experience that said, look. Yes, eight sets of 12 may be slightly better than six sets of six. But this is my experience, and I'm telling that to you.

[00:35:03.32] They need to then say, OK. Maybe I need to just take that 30 years of knowledge and actually think about where I'm at and how I'm going to make sure I can be useful to an employer by keeping it simple and real, drawing on that experience. It's going to take me 30 years to get there. Why not get the head start through these opportunities?

[00:35:23.31] Yeah, I like that-- realizing that, in this field, we will work for somebody-- being a good employee versus just working to be the most intelligent employee or showcasing the knowledge that we have. That knowledge is important, and we need that scientific foundation. But also making it productive and bringing it back to the athlete in the most digestible way possible-- that's a powerful message.

[00:35:48.30] We're dealing with COVID right now, and you touched on that. And maybe that will change your answer here. But what does the future of strength and conditioning look like if you jump ahead 5, 10 years, or even further?

[00:36:00.27] [CHUCKLES] You know, I guess, again, if you asked me two months ago. And now, where we're headed, we're looking at ways to financially make it viable-- a recovery package. The government's having to step in to prop up professional sport. There's no TV broadcasting. Yeah, that's a tough question, if I'm being honest, in the COVID environment.

[00:36:21.15] The rugby union, the All Blacks, one of our most successful, financially viable programs at great expense. But when you remove the TV and the ability to play games, you lose all the things that create financial reward, if you want, for that success that keeps it viable. So I think I haven't got a clear answer here. But I would say it brings opportunity, because we're all being leveled.

[00:36:53.52] So right now, it's almost like I've gone back to 1989, and I'm a student saying, gee, the economy's not looking too great. We've been told we'll be-- they call it a gig economy. But back then, it was having many part-time jobs. I had three part-time roles that created my full-time income. And actually, that was quite a great way to work, because you moved between workplaces, picking up more ideas than getting involved in workplace politics. [CHUCKLES]

[00:37:19.83] So I think, at the end of the day, it's that opportunity-- piecing small bundles of work that are paid with volunteer work where you're gaining something which is professional development and experience. And I think that's where we're going to see some even well-hardened professionals have to reconsider. What are the skills that I've got to get through this window that will allow us to rebuild our career?

[00:37:47.61] And I think what, for us, has stood out is there's too much face-to-face, probably, going on. We have our equipment in athlete garages at the moment, where they're training. And they're still getting on with the job. The cost of having everyone come together to one center is great for equipment, but then we run a timetable where the equipment has to be shared out through a timetable.

[00:38:11.64] So I was thinking, well, what's more flexible ways of letting people train that we can take after this COVID environment of lockdown? What technology are we finally using that I was told, in the '90s, was how we're going to work? We're doing a Zoom interview. Well, where can we keep that going for workplace meetings? And where can we keep athletes engaged via these technologies as opposed to always coming face-to-face?

[00:38:37.65] Maybe there's greater flexibility than the rigid barriers we've put up to say, unless I show up and attend this gym under your supervision, then we can't possibly be moving forward. When we go on tour, we don't always have that luxury.

[00:38:51.61] So this lockdown environment, for our strength and conditioning team, has been quite familiar in that it's how we have to provide support when we're not on the tour. Between World Cups-- they're a month apart-- it's not financially sensible to bring your strength and conditioning guy over as an extra mouth to feed when your budget's constrained. But we're operating in those same sort of contact environments overseas today and still getting great results.

[00:39:19.83] So I'll just put that out there, that it might finally make us shift some of our ways that-- one of the concepts behind training has always been, can your athlete remotely place their data into the phone while they're training, and then you peer-review it to say, well, it looks like you're rushing between exercises, and you were actually going more for the work rate rather than the intensity? So you got the session down but not optimized it.

[00:39:47.06] So with your GymAware or your encoders attached to that piece of technology, you can quantify the session, review it as a peer, and say, it looks like you're rushing the reps, and we need to slow your work rate down. Put the timer on that app so that you don't do your next set until at least four minutes has gone through. Or, alternate two exercises, and let's see what impact that has on your numbers. We're now bench-pressing and doing a set of TRX rows, and we're finding that that's giving you something to occupy your time so you're not rushing to the next set.

[00:40:18.30] So the technology aspect of how we keep our time for face-to-face and optimize it-- I'm hoping that, post-lockdown, that's where we're headed, that we're better with when we choose to have face-to-face contact from what-- yeah, I guess not having a meeting for a meeting's sake. Not all training needs to be face-to-face. Maybe we've got other ways that we haven't utilized to its best opportunity.

[00:40:44.82] Yeah, learning from this time. And you touch on using technology through COVID-19 and that there will likely be some carry-over into when we get back to what becomes the new normal.

[00:40:57.33] How can our listeners connect with you? I know we have a little bit of a time zone difference that we had to navigate on this podcast.

[00:41:03.27] Yeah.

[00:41:03.66] But what's the best way to connect?

[00:41:06.27] Well, I've got my Twitter feed. It's @Chad_Bling. There's a story behind that feed handle. But at the end of the day, that offers a great communication-- private messaging through that. There's my LinkedIn profile. That often is-- I guess most people seem to use Instagram and other ways. I've got those. I'm not always a prolific poster or tweeter. But yeah, pretty much, those are the probably opportunities if they want to contact me. And we can go from there.

[00:41:39.91] Dr. Trent Lawton, Senior Strength and Conditioning Specialist with Rowing New Zealand. Thanks for sharing with us.

[00:41:44.98] Thanks for having me, Eric.

[00:41:46.34] This was the NSCA Coaching Podcast, brought to you by Sorinex Exercise Equipment. Thanks for tuning in.

[00:41:51.55] And if you're engaged on social media, a lot like me, you also need to check out NSCA'S Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

[00:41:57.49] [MUSIC PLAYING]

[00:41:58.36] 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.

Reporting Errors: To report errors in a podcast episode requiring correction or clarification, email the editor at publications@nsca.com or write to NSCA, attn: Publications Dept., 1885 Bob Johnson Dr., Colorado Springs, CO 80906. Your letter should be clearly marked as a letter of complaint. Please (a) identify in writing the precise factual errors in the published podcast episode (every false, factual assertion allegedly contained therein), (b) explain with specificity what the true facts are, and (c) include your full name and contact information.

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Eric L. McMahon, MEd, CSCS,*D, RSCC*D

Strength & Conditioning Coach, NSCA Headquarters, Colorado Springs, CO, United States

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Eric McMahon is the Coaching and Sport Science Program Manager at the NSCA Headquarters in Colorado Springs. He joined the NSCA Staff in 2020 with ove ...

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Trent Lawton is an expert in strength and conditioning with over 25 years' experience coaching Olympic and World Champions. His seminal published rese ...

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