Strength & Conditioning = art?

Greetings from Canada!

So for those who don’t know me I’ll give you a quick background what’s going on in my life. I’m a Strength & Conditioning coach from Finland (R5 Athletics & Health) and currently taking a gap year from my masters so I can work at an elite Strength & Conditioning gym called “The Athlete Factory” in Calgary, Canada (picture above and video below). In my upcoming blog posts I’ll be mostly talking about specific Strength & Conditioning subjects (I’ll try to make it sound interesting!), but this first post is written with slightly more..feeling! I will also mostly be writing in English, good practice!

Check out this short video that i recently filmed to show you how it looks in the gym:

One of the big reasons for starting my journey in sports science is to avoid confirmation bias in the field of coaching, which is ridiculously normal. I personally don’t think I’m smart enough to avoid this without a broader education, and there is nothing worse than becoming an old dog that can’t be taught new tricks. This pushes me to be in constant contact with research (old&new), if there is a better choice for a specific goal, then I try my best to accept failure and approach the problem with a better understanding, as all scientists should.

But when I started my bachelors in 2009 it was baffling how much research was out there that either seemed to contradict other research or is so confusing, that even the scientists who published it didn’t seem to understand the practical implications of it. But it was not until my exchange in Canada 2011-2012 that I noticed research does not necessarily pull me away from confirmation bias if I’m not familiar with what is going on behind the scenes in practice of highly successful Strength & Conditioning. This might seem ridiculous, but I thought back in 2009 that sport science would be at least one step ahead of what’s going on in practice, but in many ways that assumption was wrong.

We have to remember that the history of producing peer reviewed articles in sports science is relatively young. Scientific applications in sports hit a big peak around the mid-20th century in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc nations. This study of sports moved to the United States, and by the ’60s, many experts were investigating sport-specific phenomena. The faculty of Sport and Health Sciences in the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland (my uni) is the only university-level educational research facility for sports science in Finland, and it became a faculty of its own in 1966. So it looks like at least in western culture high level sports science has only really been around actively for 40-50 years. But this is still no solid reason to why sport science is sometimes disconnected from practice.
So why is there this gap between sports scientists and experienced practitioners? Why is there so much controversy in our field? What is the reason for a lot of unsustainable methods being utilized in practice?

There are probably tons of reasons, but one simple biomechanical reason is the fact that most athletic movements are mutli-joint movements and the number of degrees of freedom theoretically allows a certain task to be executed in a variety of ways. This dilemma also applies for example to the athlete’s energy work; because there is multiple energy systems in the body there will be multiple ways of getting someone’s stamina up. This technically means that in sport science studies we can get a “result” with inexperienced athletes/populations with multiple approaches.

Unfortunately not a lot of sports science research is done on high level athletes, which is a population that are extremely sensitive to any flaws present in the training protocols. High level athletes often cannot afford sacraficing time from their intense training regime for strenuous research, so we have to rely on studying low level athletes. Getting an unexperienced athlete to jump - let say 10 cm higher - with a training regime can be done possibly in multiple non-sustainable ways, but get an experienced world class sprinter’s PB 100 meter time down by 0.10+ seconds in an important event, now that's not only world class quality, it’s an art.

Wise coaches or these “Strength & Conditioning artists” do not share a lot of information to the public and are not very interested in it either, and probably for good reasons. Partly because a lot of the information they would give would be easily misused or contradicts some popular literature.

So in 2012 I decided to invest in finding strong practical guidance; wise mentors/guru’s that can teach me through their success & failures so I can take a better path right from the start. I also noticed that I have to make a huge choice: do I want to become a great scientist or great coach?

This does not mean that a great coach can't be a good scientist or the other way around, but high level training science is worthless if you can’t coach it to your athlete. A great coach does not necessarily need a video to see detailed technical errors in someone’s sprint & jump mechanics, a great coach makes an athlete understand, believe and achieve things that they didn’t think were possible. It takes a lifetime to become a great coach, and that’s why I’m essentially here in the Athlete Factory, to start my life project of becoming the best coach I can be. And I’m telling you, I cannot exaggerate what an amazing place this gym is. 

I will return to Finland in August 2015 to finish my masters, and the goal is that my experience here will influence strongly the theme of my thesis, which i'm excited about. After that it’s back to the field!
I will also find a quote suited for each blog entry, this was my choice for this post:

“Knowledge is power, but only wisdom is liberty” - Will Durant

Next time, I’ll talk in a less abstract manner what this place can provide to an athlete, athlete specific vs. sport specific and how I hope this place will influence Finnish Strength & Conditioning in the future.



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