Interview with Sean Waxman about Weight Training

Sean Waxman is a former National level Olympic Weightlifter and highly regarded coach. He spent nearly a decade of his life immersed as an athlete in the world of Olympic Weightlifting under the direction and guidance of USAW Hall of Fame Coach Bob Takano. Sean was one of the top Olympic Weightlifters in the country from 1995-2001, earning him a spot on the National Team, a National medal, and five California state championships.

Here are my 5 questions with Sean and his answers:

1) In devising regimens you have been known to take competitive athletes back to rudimentary exercises, reintroducing basic movements such as somersaults into your client’s program. Explain why this is necessary.

Many times athletes, especially young athletes, spend too much time playing and practicing their sport (developing specific sport skills) and too little time training for their sport developing specific athletic attributes (i.e. strength, power, flexibility, etc.). They become highly skilled in the movement patterns required for their sport, but overall they have become poor athletes.

By introducing new movement patterns such as basic barbell exercises and gymnastic movements, the athlete is exposed to different movement patterns thereby raising their developmental ceiling. An athlete is better served, especially in the beginning of their career, spending at least as much time preparing their body for sport than actually playing their sport. This will assure that the athlete’s body will be properly prepared to handle the rigors of intense competition without breaking down due to overuse injuries.

2) You have been one of the pioneers in bringing multi-joint exercises back to the forefront through your various publications. In general, there has been a departure from the dictum of isolated movements and fitness practitioners across the board are incorporating multi-joint movements back into their overall programs. Why has the paradigm shifted back to exercises that incorporate multiple muscle groups rather than specialized training that single out particular muscle groups?

It is quite simple, multi-joint exercises are the most effective tools to elicit change in the body. I do agree that there has been a turn back to multi-joint movements. Although, calling a bodyweight squat on a Bosu ball a multi-joint exercise is like calling fast food fine dining. The fitness world has turned proper training that follows the laws of biomechanics and muscle physiology into some form of entertainment that affects the body on only a superficial level.

Because of this “paradigm shift” many in the worlds of fitness & strength and conditioning have heard the message of multi-joint movements and have gravitated towards it. Unfortunately, many of the most visible leaders of this movement are incompetent, ignorant, misinformed or just out to promote themselves without any regard as to the quality of their information. In many cases, these people/organizations have taken one small part of the training paradigm and formed their own training system around it. For example, if I hear one more person talk to me about core training, I am going to go postal.

There is an entire industry that revolves around core training. “Functional” core strength is a byproduct of properly executing squatting, pulling, overhead lifting and the Olympic lifts — not lying on a freaking ball and doing crunches. What function does that serve? Proper training is about the “big rocks”. If you want to fill a glass with rocks, you put the big rocks in first, then the little rocks then the sand. In training, the big rocks are the exercises that elicit the best physiological response; as mentioned earlier: squatting, pulling, overhead lifting and the Olympic lifts all done while standing on the floor with a barbell and sometimes dumbbells.

3) You are recognized as the “go-to guy” when it comes to Olympic lifts. What is one piece of knowledge that you can pass along from your expertise regarding this style of training that could benefit every athlete?

Regardless of how many certifications or letters a person has after their name, if they tell you weighted jumps, Vertimax or any other circus act provides the same benefits as the Olympic lifts, they are misinforming you. These movements do not come close to providing the benefits the Olympic lifts do. The problem is that often the people telling you that you don’t need the Olympic lifts have either never used them properly in their own training or are out to promote there own new “revolutionary” training method. I guarantee you anybody that has trained using the Olympic lifts, WITH GOOD TECHNIQUE, has dramatically improved their ability to produce and absorb force.

4) Looking at fitness and health across its broad spectrum, if you had the power to make one profound change to the landscape – something that you view as fundamentally wrong in its current state – what would it be and why?

Because of the ever-increasing demand for trainers and strength coaches, certification has become a cottage industry. This is where the big money is. Because of this, there are very few quality standards provided with a certification. This puts many unqualified people into circulation. At the very least before you hand somebody a license to take somebody’s health and well being in their hands, make sure they know how to perform and teach you exercises properly. I don’t think that is too much to ask for. Exercise is a powerful stimulus. If used correctly it can provide innumerable benefits, however if used improperly — especially on an athlete — it can act as an impediment for reaching one’s full athletic potential.

When somebody is certified as a trainer or coach the assumption is they are competent and well versed in the skills it takes to make you a better athlete. Right now in the industry’s current state that is not the case in the worlds of fitness & strength and conditioning.

5) In contrast to the previous question, what is something that excites you about the future of fitness – i.e. something that you view as fundamentally correct and heading in the right direction in its current state?

What excites me in fitness is the general acceptance of exercise as one of, if not the most, powerful components to one’s well being, a kind of cure all. Even the most mainstream media outlets report on the wonders of exercise. If this trend continues and is championed by the correct people/organizations, exercise, especially exercise done with free weights, can affect society on a scale as large as the personal computer has. For example, two out of the top four killers of Americans are currently cardiovascular disease and adult-onset diabetes. These are “lifestyle” diseases caused predominantly by inactivity. Exercise would all but eradicate these ailments. The six top-selling medications: Pfizer’s cholesterol pill LIPITOR, Bristol-Myers Squibb blood thinner that treats heart disease PLAVIX, AstraZeneca’s NEXIUM which treats heartburn, GlaxoSmithKline’s ADVAIR which treats Asthma, Merck ‘s ZOCOR which treats high cholesterol and Pfizer’s NORVASC which treats high blood pressure… these drugs would no longer be consumed at their current rate. That could mean over forty billion dollars less in the pockets of the drug companies. If there were less demand for these drugs as well as for all the cottage industries created around treating these conditions, it would force the companies that provide health care to dramatically lower the cost to the consumer. It would give some power back to the people and take it away from the companies for whom keeping American people sick is business as usual.

I believe that this is but one way exercise could impact society. I also believe that we have taken the first step towards making this paradigm shift, and this excites me!

Interview with Jamie Ramsden about Leadership

Jamie Ramsden is the CEO of Goodridge USA which is an automotive company that supplies high performance products to the automotive and racing industry. Jamie is a Certified Executive Leadership Coach and ad hoc faculty member at the Center of Creative Leadership. Jamie also manages his own consulting firm, Adastra Consulting, which specializes in the development of executive talent and leadership potential.

Here are my 5 questions with Jamie and his answers:

1) If you only had a minute to sum up what leadership means to you, what would be your answer?

During my ongoing study of leadership, I have always been struck by how many authors focus on a) the traits of the leader or b) the inter-relationship between leader and context, or between leader and followers. For the 19th and 20th century this was an adequate model. However, it is insufficient for the world we live in today. I believe that leadership in its optimal form is based around the relationship between leader, followers and context – a 3-dimensional framework, if you like – if it is to be relevant today.

From a practical standpoint, the successful leader must recognize that he/she represents the goals and dreams of the people who put him/her in their current position and provide a framework for people to develop in four key areas: their sense of self, their sense of community, their sense of meaning (making meaning of the world around them) and their sense of purpose.

2) In researching the subject of leadership have there been one or two authors/experts that have really seemed to capture the essence of leadership for you?

For me, the key text that really opened the door to understanding this rather intangible subject was Warren Bennis’ “On Becoming a Leader”. In it, Bennis stated that “leadership is like beauty, hard to define, but you know it when you see it”.

However, there are many other people who have written knowledgably on the subject from an intellectual standpoint, notably Kouzes and Posner, Boyatzis and McKee and Goleman. If you like your leadership medicine a little stronger then, Welch and Giuliani offer very practical guides. One book that I really love that has an oblique view on the universal essence of human motivation is by Pasternak, “Quest: The Essence of Humanity”. If a leader wants to understand human motivation there is no better book.

3) Like a talented singer, or a fast runner, do you tend to believe that exceptional leaders are born with a gift, or do you believe leadership is primarily a skill that can be developed by anyone?

One fascinating theme that came out of my original research was that people in leadership roles normally define their leadership style by studying what NOT to do from their previous bosses, rather than what they should be doing. It was very clear that there are not many models out there. Most importantly, every person I spoke to about the subject stated that leadership for them was more commonly defined by people outside of their working world i.e. family, friends, social leaders, etc.

This led me to the conclusion that leadership is an every day event. As a parent, you have to show leadership, as a friend you have moments that lend themselves to leadership, as captain of your local soccer team, or chair of the mom’s club, or as a sponsored athlete, or within your church group or chess club, people are demonstrating leadership every day. Once I realized this, I felt like I had fallen into a gold mine. We are all leaders and we are all followers – it simply depends on the context!

The point about the publishing world is that they have missed the obvious target of every day leadership, which is where most people derive their inspiration. They instead focus on spurious titles such as “Jesus, CEO” or “The Leadership secrets of (Insert CEO Here)” that really adds nothing to the understanding of the subject.

4) You have acquired significant success in business in a relatively short amount of time, how much do believe that this can be attributed to the attention you have paid to the subject of leadership?

Well, I am a relatively young CEO, but that is probably due to 2 parts hard work, 2 parts dedication and 8 parts good fortune (oh, and a long-suffering and supportive wife!). The key thing to understand is that unless you are prepared to challenge yourself, look like a fool most of the time, admit that you don’t know what the hell you are doing some of the time and most critically LEARN from your mistakes, you can never be the best in whatever you are doing, be it CEO or anything else.

The format that I have developed into a book talks about a leader as a Role Model, a Community Builder, a Sense Maker and a Dream Enabler. This has certainly helped me make sense of the world but I don’t for a minute think that it will work for everyone. As John Lennon once said “Whatever gets you through the night, it’s alright”.

5) You are currently writing a book on leadership. What do you hope people will get out of your book and when will it be available?

Probably 70% of my job at work is helping people make sense of the world. Is this threat real? Is this person ready to jump? How does this tactic fall in line with our overall strategy? Why has person x done such-or-such a thing? I hope that my book and the framework contained within will allow people to make better sense of a small portion of their lives, not just from a business standpoint, but in many other areas that will ultimately enable them to be the best person that they can be.

I do coaching work at the Center for Creative Leadership. Their mission statement is “to advance the understanding, practice and development of leadership for the benefit of society worldwide”. My utmost joy would be to see the worldwide community make a small step forward because of some of the thoughts contained in my book. It is entitled “Dream Enablers” and we are in the final stages of negotiation. I’ll let you know when it surfaces…

Interview with Luke Aguilar about Running

Luke Aguilar is the All-South Texas Cross Country Coach of the Year for two years running. He has ten years of Track and Field experience spanning the high school and college level. He is a Level One Coach with USA Track and Field and has been a certified Personal Trainer with the American Council on Exercise since 1995.

Here are my 5 questions with Luke and his answers:

1) With the understanding that running is a dynamic system with a lot of variables, in your experience what one regimented change in training have you seen produce the greatest change?

Pace work is one variable of an overall training schedule that can produce huge improvements in increasing one’s speed. I will concede this is nothing new or profound. If your goal is to run a 4:40 minute mile, speed work should include 800 meter (1/2 mile) intervals at 2:20 minutes, 400’s (1/4 mile intervals) at 70 seconds and 200’s (1/8 mile intervals) at 35 seconds. Tempo runs should include a progression starting at 6 minute mile bursts (reader’s note: if you have not heard of tempo runs Google it) progressing to 5:50 minute miles, 5:45 minute miles, 5:40 minute miles and so on, you get the idea, as your time per mile begins to drop you graduate to a longer tempo run starting with one mile and building up to two, three, and then four miles at the faster pace. The key to pace work is control and progression and getting more efficient at each pace. Mentally, pace work has a huge payoff from simply knowing you can run at your desired speed effectively. The caveat to this is that you must maintain control and progress slowly throughout a steady regimen, avoiding superman syndrome. If you go out there and kill yourself it is counterproductive and you will lose most of the benefit, especially any mental edge you might have gained. Pace work is particularly important for shorter races.

2) What is the most common correction you have to make when you begin working with someone that is new to running? What piece of conventional wisdom with regards to running is just plain wrong?

There are several mechanical corrections that are common among young and/or new runners. Probably the most common mistake I see is improper shoulder and arm swing caused by muscle imbalance. Some other factors to be careful and cognitive of are tightening of the jaw, neck, or upper traps, and/or improper foot strikes. Everything should stay loose during a run of any significant distance. I see these problems across the board in young and old runners. The key to improving is to be an efficient runner.

One thing I would like to note as well is that if anyone that says one method of training, or one specific workout, is the best for everyone they are just plain wrong. High mileage workouts, speed training, walk/run strategies, etc. there is no one way. Each person needs to keep trying until they find what works for them.

3) With regards to long distance running, there seems to be a dichotomy in ideologies: the camp that says it is necessary to log serious miles in order to improve and the camp that preaches Periodization and a focus on quality workouts versus quantity. Who do you think is right?

Not to sound like a presidential candidate but both are right. If you read carefully between the philosophical lines that divide the two camps you began to recognize the similarities in both ideologies and the concept of macro- and micro- cycles. Factors that could determine the use of either approach are a runner’s specific goals, the runner’s background, the runner’s experience level, their history of injuries, the amount of time a runner has to train, etc. Again, there is no “one” right way for everyone. For instance Arthur Lydiard’s work is now questioned, the idea that a track athlete should train like a marathoner seems counterintuitive to many coaches. Another example is that it might not be prudent for a heavy set person or someone with any existing injury to prescribe to logging high mileage. The factors of your training dictate the regimen. A good coach will work backwards from their respective athlete’s goal based on the athlete’s background, existing base, and genetic factors. In the 12 week season I have with my high school athletes I need to maximize my season relative to its start. For that, I incorporate a Periodization with a phase of high mileage tapering down to peak performance, so for me there is a symbiotic relationship between these two ideologies, but again there is no right way for any one athlete.

4) What would be your prescription for a long distance runner that has come to you looking to improve their overall speed?

“Overall speed” would need to be defined. I like to start with a measurable goal. My next inquiry would be determining weaknesses in the prospective runner with regards to speed. Is this person in need of speed because of lack of endurance, strength, mechanics and/or gait cadence, or perhaps all of the above?

Strength training sometimes is the only way to increase speed. You can use the right strength training routine to emulate lactate build up. You can also use strength training to correct and/or improve your athlete’s gait.

An example of a track workout would be 150 meter build-ups or “on the flies”, both are good workouts to isolate mechanical problems as well as teach and develop the concept of turnover (proper gait cadence). Pace work combined with controlled tempo runs (as I discussed in your first question) is another way of developing speed by systematically loading the appropriate energy sources. Cone drills and ladder workouts to focus on stride length and frequency are also something in my bag of tricks. Basic A Step, B Step drills is another drill I use to teach proper leg mechanics and foot strikes.

Again, each runner is different, this is a difficult question to answer because it is open-ended but I have provided you with some examples of different approaches I use for different athletes.

5) What is your favorite professional success story (you do not have to limit this to running)?

As coaches we all take the same classes, we all read the same books and magazines and go to the same seminars. What makes one coach better than another is their ability to wade through all this information and incorporate it into a system that is specific to the athlete they are training. So much of sport is mental, my ability to sell “my product” has been a key to my success as a track & field/cross country coach. If your athlete knows you have the knowledge and the ability to help them improve then they are going to buy in to your system and bring that confidence with them into competition. Individualized training, the ability to instill confidence and the mental edge in my athletes, I believe those have been key factors in my success.

Interview with Stuart MacFarlane about Venture Capital

Stuart MacFarlane was the COO and founder of MXG Media, an executive at idealab!, and the CEO of Insider Pages (one of the first large scale Ruby for Rail projects). He is now Managing Director at Momentum Venture Management where he aids early stage technology companies gain the necessary traction to turn their ideas into successful businesses.

Here are my 5 questions with Stuart and his answers:

1) What are the top 3 things not to do in a venture capital meeting?
a. Don’t start talking about your technology until you’ve explained the problem your technology is solving. Often times entrepreneurs will be so focused on the proprietary technology they have built that they forget that their audience doesn’t have any context to understand whether the technology really helps someone.
b. Being defensive and/or arguing. I am here to help and my job is to fund businesses. If I ask hard questions or offer constructive criticism it is because I am doing my job. If someone is unable to keep their composure I am left wondering how well they will attract and keep a quality team. Furthermore, the VC world is so much smaller than people think. If you upset one of us, your reputation will precede you faster than you think.
c. Do not try and close a deal on the first meeting. Often times in a first meeting you are not meeting with someone who can make the ultimate decision. If you are not aware of this there are many things you could do that would jeopardize the deal.

2) What does Web 2.0 mean to you?
Web 2.0 has been used to describe so many different things that it’s hard for anyone to know exactly what it means anymore. For me, Web 2.0 means several things. It means software as a service rather than a product. It means websites or technologies that foster communities, facilitate openness, and incorporate user generated content such as voting or reviews. It’s Flickr, Digg and YouTube. You’ll see Web 2.0 on websites that pull content from multiple other sites to improve the user experience. Look at a Google Map mash-up or any MySpace page to see how many different sites are feeding their content onto the page. It also means new technologies like AJAX that allow easier user interaction on websites.

3) Viewing start-ups as a product, what do think the VC market is going to be the hungriest for in the foreseeable future?
Any business that solves a real problem, can scale quickly, has great margins, and can make a 10x return for the investor! To try to be slightly more specific, it’s difficult to predict where the VC dollars are going to flow. Web 2.0 companies are still hot but there are a number that have been funded that are now looking like me-toos and that have dubious revenue models, so who knows if they will continue to be funded in the future.

4) In your experience of reviewing (and also creating) business plans, what is the most common mistake would-be entrepreneurs make?
One big mistake is building a technology before you really understanding the problem you are trying to solve. Most successful startups come at it from the other way. Understand the pain point — then find a way, often using technology, to make it go away.

5) Being the principal of a multi-million dollar startup that you had to help through bankruptcy, what is the most valuable takeaway you received from your experience?
If you ever have to take a business through a distressed situation, like a bankruptcy, remain honest, open, and compassionate and treat everyone as fairly as you can. This includes the people that work for you, your business partners, your creditors and your investors. You will have to deliver a lot of bad news during a situation like that, so make sure people understand that they can trust what you say and that you will do what you can to help them.

Interview with Dr. Michael Gervais about Sport Psychology

Dr. Michael Gervais, as the CEO of Pinnacle Performance, Inc., is an authority on the psychology of performance excellence. Throughout the past ten years, Michael has consulted with numerous NHL, NBA, NFL, MLS, AVP, Mixed Martial Arts fighters, Olympic, collegiate, and high school athletes. He is a published, peer-reviewed author of sport psychology systems for innovative strategies toward performance excellence. Mike is an internationally recognized speaker on issues related to human performance.

Here are my 5 questions with Michael and his answers:

1) Under the constraint of having to pick only one, what one change can an average athlete make to improve his or her overall performance?

Enhanced perspective; I know it might sound a bit esoteric, but one of the greatest tools that athletes can add to their “toolbox” is the interpersonal depth that comes from experience in life, with an openness toward growth (i.e., change)… which, at some level, requires risk… risk of being uncomfortable, risk of pushing outside of comfort zones, risk of failure, risk of not meeting “goals”. The process of enhancing perspective is a life-long journey… with perspective being defined as the ability to continually better understand how you “fit” into the grander scheme of things… whether that be in sport, business, or life. So, I guess I’m not really providing a concrete recipe for improved performance, but rather suggesting that with a posture of being open to change and a continual passion for rich experiences, people naturally grow and enhanced performance is often a pleasant by-product.

2) With regards to performance, what is your favorite natural supplement?

Most people think of supplements as some sort of dietary enhancer. I see it just a bit differently. For me, a supplement is anything that enhances performance when it’s added to the mix – and in that context – my favorite supplement for performance is anything that keeps the body loose, yet retains technical movement. And this is going to sound way too simple, but the most powerful supplement is our inner dialog. That little running script, while running, can be our greatest ally or our worst enemy. The good news is that we can train that dialog to be our greatest “supplement” towards enhanced performance. That is a big part of high performance psychology… getting your mind and body aligned so that your performance becomes more fluid.

3) What is the biggest mistake you see in novice athletes?

This question ties back to the first question — novice athletes, by definition, lack experience which greatly decreases their ability to set realistic, yet challenging (performance-based) goals. A second mistake that I see many athletes make is paying way too much attention to the variables that are not within their control. It is really important to have a clear understanding of what is with-in. and what is outside of one’s control. Once this is established, the mentally tough athlete becomes absorbed in developing, with excellence, each variable that is within his/her control.

4) What does imagery mean to you and how can athletes use imagery to help them achieve their goals?

Imagery is the process of using all five senses to create experiences in your mind. To simplify, these images become the “software” programming for your neurological and muscular system. That being said, your body doesn’t really know the difference between the pictures that you create in your mind and the real experience. Think about that… your body, when the images seem “real”, can’t tell if you’re actually in the event or simply creating it in you mind. Pretty powerful! These pictures (images) come from the words you use (your thoughts)… so it becomes very important to be aware of your thoughts, to become aware of your pictures, to become aware of these “invisible” habits that are continually programming your neurological and muscular system. If you have clear goals, the benefit of having successful images/thoughts speaks for itself.

5) What is your favorite professional success story?

I’ve been blessed… I have many “favorite” success stories… and in particular with one female ice skater who changed the perspective of what others thought was not possible. More specifically, this athlete (competing at the world level) was able to do for her sport, what Roger Bannister was able to do for running. She did something that completely changed the way the sport can be done… this change unlocked a new vision, a new image for others. She was able to see what others couldn’t see… she was able to trust that vision… to trust her training… and perform a feat that still to this day has not been done on the world stage. That being said, the reason that this story stays present with me is because she really had to work for it… along her path of excellence, she experienced many personal struggles… and in the face of each of them, she was able to anchor her inner belief, and truly become absorbed in the day-to-day pursuit of personal excellence… Being part of her journey has been an amazing experience that has forever shaped how I understand the exploration of personal potential… and the courage it takes to follow that calling.