Sunday, 31 December 2017

Best-of 2017 Media Picks

Thanks for stopping by.  If you missed my Best of 2016, you can go back and check it out here:

(I also wrote Best-ofs in previous years.  you can scroll through the archives on the right of this page to find them).

I didn’t read quite as many books this year (60 maybe?) as normal, as I spent more time on articles, blog-posts, and traditional media (WAY too much of this - thus the post yesterday about how I will engage with media more PROactively in 2018).  I got a little addicted to the craziness that is the Trumpshpere.  No more … 2018 will be back to quality media - good books, good articles, good blog-posts, good podcasts.  

Which brings me to a question that was asked by Jorge Carvajal on Twitter last week about what folks’ thoughts are about finishing books.  My opinion - easy: if the book sucks, read something else.  I honestly don’t know why people struggle with this.  Life is short.  Don’t spend it wasting time doing things you don’t enjoy.

A word or two on this year’s list:
I read 2-3 hours a day, and listen to podcasts for another 1-3.
I don’t have a TV, and I don’t have WiFi at home - so lots of time to make (hopefully good) choices.  
I’ve divided the list into sections.
I haven’t included books I don’t like at all.
My pet peeve: good people who recommend crappy books, just because they’re written by colleagues, or by someone else in the industry.  There are some truly HORRIBLE books in the sport performance world.

I have three requests for those in the Industry:
  1. Just because you live in the sport performance world doesn’t mean you have to write a book; 
  2. Just because you live in the sport performance world doesn’t mean you have to buy the crap that others in the industry are putting out; and 
  3. Just because you live in the sport performance world, and you somehow got suckered into buying a crap book by a colleague doesn’t mean that you have to pay it forward trying to sucker others into reading it also

The same goes for podcasts.  There are more and more performance podcasts popping up.  Some are good.  Some are bad.  Most are somewhere in between.  This is a good thing - the cream will eventually rise to the top, as it traditionally always has.  


My worry is with the quantity of new media - and the concomitant dilution of quality - as well as a growing industry where many lack the necessary context-experience to separate the wheat from the chaff, that it will become increasingly difficult for high-quality work to gain acceptance-respect.  My glass-is-half-full side here points to the success of Fergus’, Brett’s, Steve and Brad’s, and Brian, Andy, and Phil’s books (below) as hopeful proof that the cream will continue to rise to the top.

Back to podcasts:

My biggest issue with most of the sport performance podcasts, is that most end up being simple question-answer sessions (Robbie Bourke’s podcast is a notable exception to this), where the hosts aren’t able to discern what’s accurate from what’s simply novel.  I have the same beef with traditional media, by the way.  Even the New York Times are now having to post-hoc produce critiques of their own reporting - needing to take 24-48 hours to do their own research into the latest Trump-lies, or the spin of other politicians.  This is a challenging time, but as I wrote yesterday, the antidote is to ask “why?”.  

We all need to dig deeper; whether it be into the recesses of our own minds, the programs we write, the manner in which we coach and communicate, or with the media we engage with. When someone tells you “your glutes are shutting off”, for example - and that they have built a system to eliminate this, ask them to go deeper.  If we don’t have the opportunity, let’s do some further research ourselves.  Dig deeper ourselves. 

If you do not have the experience to fully understand something, be careful when you say “I think”, or “I feel” - and be careful not to be exploited by the lowest-common denominator messages - appealing to novelty, rather than to quality.  

Anyways - on to my top media picks of 2017:


On dealing with the world we live in:

Silence In the Age of Noise - Erling Kagge
The Energy Bus - Jon Gordon
The Elon Musk Blog Series - Tim Urban (Wait But Why)
I bought this on Kindle, but if you want, you can read it for free on the What But Why blog
The Circle - Dave Eggers
Apparently a pretty crap movie - but I enjoyed this somewhat dystopian look into the future
The Gift of Fear - Gavin De Becker

Over-rated, but still OK:

Principles - Ray Diallo
Biggest critique: Diallo should have hired a ghost-writer.  The poor writing is distracting
The Captain Class - Sam Walker
Meh … I got the point after a chapter
Legacy - James Kerr
Really don’t see what the fuss is about, to be honest.  

Best in Existentialism:

Existentialism and Excess - The Life & Times of Jean-Paul Sartre - Gary Cox
At The Existentialist Cafe - Sarah Bakewell
The Stranger - Albert Camus
I went deep into existentialism this year.  These three were my favorites.  I will no doubt have a few more on the 2018 List

Best in Business:

Thinking in New Boxes - Luc De Brabandere and Alan Iny
The Systems Bible - John Gall
Not a business book per se, but lots to learn here that can be applied to the business world.
What Do You Want Your Customers to Become? - Michael Scherage


Recovery - Russel Brand
Check out Brand’s podcast Under the Skin, also.  Trivia: my good friend, and former UKA Chief Physio Gordon Bosworth, is Brand’s therapist.
What Doesn’t Kill Us - Scott Karney
Basically, a how-to on the Wim Hof method

On History:

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind -
 Yuval Noah Harari
Thirteen Days - Robert F Kennedy
I read this after listening to Dan Carlin’s 6 hour exposé on the Cuban Missile Crisis on Hardcore History.  Really insightful short read

The Best in the Industry:

Peak Performance - Steve Magness & Brad Stulberg
Bringing elite-performance sport principles to the general population … timely
Conscious Coaching - Brett Bartholomew
A must-have for all coaches
Unplugged - Brian MacKenzie, Dr Andy Galpin, and Phil White
The right book at the right time
Gamechanger - Dr Fergus Connolly w/ Phil White
A must-have for all who work in sport!

The Top 5 Non-Sport Books:

Erich Fromm - To Have or to Be?
I’ll read this every year
The Undoing Project - Michael Lewis
Lewis - incredible writer!
Delivering Happiness - Tony Hseih
This is the book Diallo’s Principles should have been.  This is an awesome look into Hseih and Zappos
Existentialism and Excess - The Life & Times of Jean-Paul Sartre - Gary Cox
And my book of the year:
Fantasyland - Kurt Andersen
I heard about this book from listening to Andersen’s conversation with Sam Harris on the Waking Up podcast.  If you are wondering why America is the way it is, read this book


The People of the Abyss - Jack London
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit - Sloan Wilson
Both classics; both in the rotation

one of my 'book-shelves'


Waking Up 
The Axe Files
Fresh Air
How I Built This
What it Takes
Very Bad Wizards
Hidden Brain
Common Sense
(NOTE: I listen to all episodes of the above podcasts for at least the first 30 minutes.  If I enjoy the first 30 minutes, I finish it.  If not, I delete it)

And podcasts from sport (or related to sport):

Finding Mastery
Resilient Performance
Host Doug Kechijian is a smart dude, doing the performance podcast a little differently to everyone else.  If you haven't checked it out - do it.  Begin with his conversation with Isa Steinberg
Perception and Action podcast - Rob Gray
Rich Roll
All Things Strength & Wellness (Robbie - you need to change the title)
ALTIS (Ellie Spain is doing an awesome job interviewing upcoming ALTIS ACP guests)
And the occasional Just-Fly Sports Performance (I really enjoyed the agility one from a few weeks ago with Shawn Myszka, Scott Salwasser, and Michael Zweifel, for example)

Again - In closing – it really doesn’t matter what you read … just read!  If this list helps you choose some good books and podcasts, then great!  

If not, and you’re reading anyway – that’s great too!

Thanks - Stu

Saturday, 30 December 2017


People ask me why I haven’t posted for a while.  
They assume I’m too busy.  But that’s not it.  

Too busy should never be a justification.  
Busy is a decision.  
Busy is a cop-out.  

“Too” busy just means you don’t know what you want to do.

So you (try to) do everything.  

No - I haven’t been too busy. 

Truth is, I haven’t posted in a while because I have had nothing to say.  

Nothing to say because I got hooked.
 - on junk.  

The junk that is the world we live in, and specifically - how we consume it:

  • The titles, and not the abstracts.
  • The sensational headlines, and not the boring stories.
  • The tweets, and not the articles.
  • The blogs, and not the books.
  • The notifications, and not the essays.

Repetition over education.

Where everyone speaks, but no one listens.  

All mouths.
No ears.

Where what feels good is more important than what’s true.

Junk - we find out - is a way of life.

  • It is all consuming
  • It is our new reality
  • It is stealing our time

And - if we’re not careful - it’ll steal it all.
From right under our noses, as we watch it do it.  

But there’s an antidote:


Yes - DEATH.
Or - at least the acceptance of it;
the acceptance that life is just an elaborate journey to nowhere.
And an acceptance that the only way we can live with this absurdity is because we have the ability to ask WHY. 

Why the junk?
Why time-wasting?
Why are we participating in this absurdity?

“Why” is our way out of the mess that is this world right now.

Because if we do not ask why, then what’s the point in living?

Even if our answers are unsatisfactory, it is the act of asking the question that gives us purpose.

It maybe doesn’t make sense of the absurdity that is a president Trumpty Dumpty, for example - 

but it is in asking the question that brings us closer to our own truth; 

The truth that is the constant, and unending, invention, reinvention, interpretation, and reinterpretation of ourselves throughout our lives. 

The understanding that we are always a work in progress, 
 - shaped by that which we focus on.  

Because neuroplasticity occurs whether we like it or not.
Our brain is literally changing every moment of our lives.

How we focus our attention - what we focus our attention on,
… is what our life becomes. 

“How we spend our days is how we spend our lives” - Dillard

The question is:  “how will we spend our days?”
What will we choose to do?
What will we read?
Who will we listen to?

“If I spend the remainder of my life doing this, would it be meaningful?”

In 2018, I will work through this PROCESS a little differently.

Rather than reacting to the world around me, I will engage more proactively,

  • With what I read,
  • With how I read it.
  • With how I communicate,
  • With who I communicate.

Each week, I will share my own efforts at finding my own truth:

The WHY:

The negotiation with uncertainty …

because life is complicated,
 - and complex.

And only by admitting to this - 

Nay - not the admission; but the acceptance of this;
In fact - only by embracing this uncertainty,
can we hope to find where our own truth lies.  

There are no short-cuts;
we have to play the long-game.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

A Coaches' Guide to Strength Development Part X: Eccentric Training Part II - Practical Application & Periodization Implications; a guest-post from Dr Angus Ross

photo courtesy 

As discussed in Part I, eccentric (ECC) training has had a relatively comprehensive scientific backing behind it already and from what I have seen in social media in the sport science world, it is currently the subject of numerous studies and ongoing PhDs around the globe. Questions remain in terms of how to best apply ECC training in the field, but several authors/coaches/trainers have used/prescribed it extensively and in particular, I note that Dietz & Peterson’s Triphasic Training book has several chapters detailing their use and prescription/periodization of ECC loading (in conjunction with both isometric and iso-inertial options). 

My philosophies are influenced from a range of these sources, as well as from my own trial and error and hopefully at this point they do have some logical basis behind them. No doubt these philosophies will continue to evolve as we learn more, and I am in the happy position of co-supervising two talented PhD students working in this area currently - so look out for further work from Jamie Douglas and Farhan Tinwala in the years to come.

The rules of adaptation to ECC training are certainly not hard and fast, and will vary between individuals - dependent on their genotype, performance needs and training background. However I do try to use - or at least consider - the following principles or observations in prescription, which I think are at least somewhat grounded in science (most of which have been touched on in the previous post).

  • Slow ECC phases without additional load (not beyond the concentric load) advocated by many practitioners certainly increases time under tension, perhaps helps groove a motor pattern - so it seems like a good introductory option for ECC work to set up skills, postures, develop hypertrophy and provide a protective effect against increasing DOMS in subsequent phases
  • Slow high tension (overloaded beyond concentric) ECC and isometric work – are likely to develop tissue integrity, including increases in both muscle CSA & tendon stiffness – potential changes in overall stiffness potential likely occur from this. Note that this type of training will induce additional DOMS in initial sessions.
  • SSC and/or neural-motor control-driven performance benefits may be realized relatively quickly following ECC training. Anecdotal and experimental evidence with both high performance athletes and moderately conditioned subjects suggest that these gains likely will be maintained for several weeks after the conclusion of ECC training. 
  • ECC training has greater cortical activation but decreased muscle activation relative to CON work – resulting in decreased peripheral fatigue for a given load, and a lower metabolic cost. Perhaps implications from this in terms of the training load that can be tolerated - i.e. a greater volume of work - can be tolerated at a muscle level as compared to other training modalities. A potential drawback (and not one with any real scientific evidence to date) is the possibility of central fatigue resulting from the ECC loading as a result of the high cortical drive combined with high volume and/or the peripheral damage and subsequent inhibition. An interesting question is whether this relates to the delay in realization of some performance adaptations post ECC training?  
  • As alluded to in Part I of the ECC series (and in the point above), evidence suggests that gains in concentric-only performance metrics (e.g. concentric muscle power) may take longer to occur, or at least be maximised after the cessation of an ECC training intervention. Subsequently, the administration of eccentric training should be planned carefully with regard to the phasing of performance peaks relative to competition schedules. Additionally on-going monitoring of the patterns of adaptation of the individual athletes needs to be considered to optimize competition performance.
  • To facilitate rapid transfer of positive adaptations from ECC training to performance it makes sense to include specific skill work and some dynamic concentric or SSC loading throughout any ECC dominated training phases.
  • Eccentric work is pretty taxing and I rarely go more than 3 weeks on the trot without a substantial change, indeed 2 weeks on 1 off (and then returning back to the ECC loading in week 4) may be a better loading routine if a longer ECC phase is required.
  • Fast ECC work may increase the relative proportion of FT muscle and optimize dynamic power performance. It should be noted however that modalities that induce true fast ECC work (i.e. joint angular velocities in excess of 180o -1 ) with high tensions throughout the movement range are most likely to be motor-driven or have an external power source. Many non-motorized versions of fast ECC work end up being variations of largely switching off the targeted muscle and dropping rapidly and then trying to turn the muscle on rapidly at end of range -  these are arguably not the same stimulus as what has been used in the literature when significant shifts to FT muscle have been observed; though potentially some of these ‘down and dirty’ gravity driven approaches may have some effect, and likely do help with performance in SSC and stiffness.
  • A background of ECC training appears to maintain strength qualities and muscle cross-sectional area longer during detraining than might be seen with concentric only or traditional training (Coratella & Schena, 2016). Again implications here for detraining and tapering.

photo courtesy

Proposed Periodization

My intention with a proposed periodization of ECC training for a power athlete is based on some understanding of what the adaptations we are trying to achieve are, and an understanding of where an athlete is at in terms of development. Obviously this will effect the relative emphasis of any phase to suit individual need. A final point to consider is the individual response to the loading and I completely agree with Stu’s point in Part V of this series that periodization of the output is critical (rather than just the input). So with that in mind, tracking of adaptation (or perhaps current organism state) needs to occur throughout the process to make sure we never get too far away from our ultimate objective of getting better at the sport. That is, it is counterproductive to get to the point where ECC training may have rendered the actual event or sport training to be too far away from optimal for it to be worthwhile. These factors considered, my current thought processes (subject to change as we learn more!) and typical phases in chronological order are as follows;
  • Train to train – initial training block post time off - e.g. after a pinnacle event, training moderate to high rep range with standard iso-inertial training - i.e. typical barbell work with both concentric and eccentric phases in the 5-12 rep range.  Objective: re-introduction to training and DOMS-protection for blocks to come.

  • Slow ECC phase – tempo based, but ECC load the same as CON load, typically in this phase I would include slow eccentric work in key (or sport relevant) exercises, as well as some on normal CON-ECC iso-inertial work - at least in warm up sets. Option to also include some isometric holds in key positions in this phase. Objective: hypertrophy of muscle and tendon and motor control (spinal stacking), & again DOMS protection for upcoming blocks.

  • Overloaded ECC work – slightly faster ECC tempo but with an overloaded ECC phase. Options for adding in dynamic concentric work here and certainly with this sort of training I would be advocating 2 weeks on, then 1 off to ensure sport specific skills can be maintained at  a suitable intensity during the week off the ECC overload stress. Objectives: ongoing fast twitch hypertrophy (sarcomeres in series?), plus stiffness and eccentric strength development

  • Fast ECC work – If the modalities are available, this should include eccentrically overloaded movements at fast angular joint velocities (in excess of 180os-1) throughout the range of motion. With gravity-based loading options in this phase you can include rapid RFD by sticking isometrically at end of fast movement through the ECC range, we have also used bands during this phase to facilitate the fast ECC loading. Options for adding in dynamic concentric work here also. Objective:  increased expression of fast muscle contractile protein plus strength/rigidity in amortization phase + further tendon adaptations

  • Ballistic training – fast down and fast up – reactive focus with lighter loads typically (can be done with or without an overloaded ECC phase). Objectives: dynamic amortization phase and explosive force production

  • Competition taper or Competition phase – very low volume of strength training in general, may include periodic low volume maintenance of loaded fast ECC qualities (e.g. 1-2 sets every couple of weeks) and/or isotonic power/strength. Length of this phase will vary between athletes depending on training age, their strength reserve, their muscle size reserve, and obviously how they respond to reduced load. Noting again that this period may be longer than expected with athletes that now have an eccentric training background.  Objectives: promote overshoot of FT muscle (see Andersen & Aagaard 2000), maintain strength and CSA (or minimize loss), maintain fascicle length (or minimize loss), allow un-inhibited expression of CON power as well as ECC and SSC performance

photo courtesy

With such a periodization, I would be seeking or expecting the performance adaptations as detailed in Figure 1 below. That is I would expect max force capabilities (which by definition are delivered at low velocities) will adapt positively to the initial phases of the training. In contrast, the high speed power (with greater sport performance implications) may be negatively affected by the same training interventions. In the latter phases, a reduction of volume, less max force work, and a higher speed emphasis in training (including the fast ECC) should set up the environment for recovery from DOMS and inhibition, and potentially for the proliferation of fast contractile proteins in muscle. The expectation from this would be that convincing gains in high speed power are elicited, with this quality peaking right at the end of the periodization. Notably there could well be mild decrements in the max force abilities of the athlete during the later stages with the concomitant gains in high speed power; the trick being to ensure the blue line below always remains above a ‘strong enough’ threshold (noting that this may actually be lower than you think in some disciplines) during a competition phase to maintain sport performance.

Putting it in practice - Eccentric Exercise Options 

Eccentric exercises need to be simple to perform and safe to terminate when an athlete’s technique is compromised.  It is possible to create supra-maximal eccentric loads even without access to specific eccentric loading machinery by being creative with variations of conventional exercise.  However, as has been mentioned previously on occasions, an ECC motor-driven option does offer real advantages.  The below is by no means an exhaustive list but gives some example modalities or options with emphasis on those that can be done without excessive extraordinary equipment options:

High Tension ECC exercises (load > CON load)
  • Perform ‘2-up 1-down’ exercises – for example, lift concentrically with 2 limbs and lower with 1 during a leg press or hamstring curl, calf raise etc. 
  • Combine CON and ECC exercises – for example, combine a push up with a Nordic hamstring lower, or a hang clean to an ECC bicep curl.
  • Partner applies load (i.e. pushing/pulling down) during the ECC phase e.g. during a squat, hip thrusts, bench press, or pull up (see Figure 2).
  • Motor-assisted CON phases to allow ECC overload

Figure 1: Eccentric partner-overloaded Hip Thrusts

Fast ECC options (aiming for joint velocities ≥180os-1)
This type of eccentric training is harder to achieve with any control without expensive motor driven equipment options, with that in mind I have included both the gold-standard motor driven devices, as well as some perhaps more accessible options.
  • Fast motor driven devices e.g. recumbent ECC bike, passive leg press, isokinetic devices. Notably I have yet to have access to these devices on a regular basis, so I don’t see them as a necessity but certainly would be in the ‘nice to have’ category.
  • Absorbing energy rapidly – for example, landing from a box (bodyweight or added load - Figure 3), acceleration to rapid deceleration run, or a downhill sprint with additional load, running\jumping downstairs with additional load (weighted vest), partner push down kettlebell swings, (noting that all of these exercise are arguably not strictly fast ECC except for a very small range – better make sure that ROM is specific to the sport!). Banded resistance work is also useful in creating the acceleration in the ECC phase. 
  • Accentuated eccentric phase via added load released prior to concentric phase – for example weight releasers for barbell exercises such as squat, bench press, push press (see Figure 4) or dropping DBs on the ECC/CON turnaround of a vertical jump (arguably same issues as point above).

Figure 2: Box Drop with additional load

Figure 3: Weight release push press

Overall Summary & Suggestions 

In summary, eccentric training should be considered by/for athletes with appropriate strength training experience where:
  • There is sufficient time in the training organization for potential long-terms gains from eccentric training intervention that outweigh potential short-term losses
  • The fast contractile properties of muscle are critical to performance outcomes and-or
  • Gains in strength, leg spring stiffness and-or hypertrophy are needed and-or
  • Strong stretch-shortening-cycle contributions is critical to performance – optimizing RFD and elastic return

Finally, periodization of the eccentric work should include the introduction of the eccentric work well before the competition season to allow assessment of both its acute and chronic performance effects on the athletes in question. Periodization options may include periodic low volume ‘top up’ of ECC qualities during the competition taper.


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