The Five People You Meet In Heaven

The UKSCA journal runs a regular column entitled 'The Five People You Meet In Heaven'. The concept of the column relates back to a book by Mitch Albom (same title) and the idea is that for each edition someone that is interesting, inspiring and challenging is interviewed, the purpose of which is to share experiences that people have had on their career path which will hold significance for their own development as well as for others.  

In the past they have had some great interviews (Vern Gambetta, Brian Ashton, Robert Dos Remedios),so I was shocked, stunned and a little bit amazed when an intern I worked with a number of years ago asked to interview me for the column. Here's the interview I gave, I hope you enjoy it and I hope it stacks up alongside the other great coaches that have been interviewed in the past. 

Nick would you be able to outline for people just how your career in strength and conditioning began and how it has developed to this point? 

After finishing my MSc I started working with British Gymnastics as a sport scientist/physiologist but I wasn't particularly excited by running VO2 max tests and taking bloods, in fact I was much more interested in the training that went on between the testing.  I decided to take a bit of gamble and sat the first NSCA strength and conditioning accreditation to take place in the UK. Soon after that I took up a position with England Netball which was one of the first posts in the UK specifically for S&C. Around the same time British Gymnastics asked me back as a consultant in a similar capacity. Following this I took up the position of regional director of S&C in the West Midlands branch of the English Institute of Sport which I did for 4 and a half years before leaving to open up smart fitness.   

What drove the decision to open up your own facility?   

I saw lots of good athletes run out of funding and have no strength and conditioning support to turn to, other than personal trainers in health clubs. There were also lots of good athletes and age groupers with no access to elite support and I questioned the service these guys were getting in the health and fitness clubs and personal trainers. I decided to put my money were my mouth was and make the quality service that was available to elite athletes available to the general population and sub elite athletes. I should say, that over the last few years my views have changed a bit and I've found there are personal trainers out there who are very good at what they do. It's the same as any industry, there are good and bad practitioners and I'm not so quick to jump to conclusions!   

Private S&C facilities are quite a rarity in the U.K. when compared to the states. Do you think that we are likely to see more of these types of facilities emerge in the next few years?   

More and more are starting to pop up. There is definitely a trend towards more performance based fitness. If you look at the popular magazines like men's health, the content has changed over the past 10 years to now include squats, snatches, metabolic conditioning etc. so I think people are waking up to the fact that they were built to move not just be sat on machines. The demand is definitely there.     

What advice would you give to coaches considering making a similar move and opening up their own place?   

Location is everything; your facility needs space and you need to get the best kit your budget can withstand because people will recognise the quality. You need to hire good staff that have a thirst to be in the industry. Also don't assume that because you have worked in elite sport that everyone will be falling over themselves to come and train with you. You need to earn it!   

You've lectured quite extensively on recovery and regeneration. What lead to this being a particular area of interest for you?  

This became a big area of focus for people during the England Rugby world cup winning era but I was first exposed to it at England netball. Looking back, they were really ahead of the curve with contrast baths etc. However the light bulb really turned on when listening to a talk Vern Gambetta did on training a few years back. Vern spoke about a trend with coaches who were focusing on improving the last 1% of performance, but the same coaches often forget about the other 99%! I took the same idea and thought about relating it to recovery. I was seeing athletes doing a lot of the 'bells and whistles' stuff (massage, ice baths etc) but the very same athletes were drinking Red Bull, eating carrot cake and not getting enough sleep!  From there I sat down with Mark Jarvis and came up with the Recovery Pyramid. We basically developed a process, much like training, where in order to do the fancy stuff you had to take care of the basics first. It all links back to the idea of the 24hour athlete. We may only see are athletes 1-2 hours a day and they can potentially go mess everything up in the other 22 hours of the day by not following appropriate regeneration techniques.     

What are some of the practices you put in place to track the recovery and regeneration of your athletes?  

 At England Netball we had training diaries which were really useful. We could upload the information and after a couple of months really start to see trends. I also have a look at athletes jump height and ground contact time at the start of sessions to see where we are. I have to say, a lot of the stuff I use comes more from the art of coaching as opposed to the recommendations  printed in text books. For example, when you work with athletes long enough you can meet them at the door and during the few minutes to walk to the gym know if it's going to be a big session or not. While on tour with the netball girls we would do multiple jumps for distance and measure that, but you could also look the other way and just listen to the foot contacts and tell from the thuds and slams that maybe it wasn't a day for high volume.   T

here seems to be a move away from the programming and monitoring of time under tension in training programs recently. Why do you stick with it?   

Alywn Cosgrove came up with the idea of over reactions and under reactions in the industry. What he was describing was a trend were a technique, piece of equipment, training style etc. comes out and everyone loves it, then people take it too far, then no one uses it anymore. I think the same reaction has happened with T.U.T. The use of TUT in relation to developing particular strength qualities is an article in itself but I use it primarily as a coaching tool. I use it as a coaching tool because if I were to write a program and have a younger S&C coach delivering it, their idea of a slow and controlled movement might be completely different to mine, but if I say I want a 3-2-3 tempo then we know a lift is going to look a certain way. It also allows me to work out, second for second, just how long a session is going to take so I defiantly think there is still a use for keeping it around as a coaching tool. The problem is people started going mad with it and prescribing ridiculous things.     

Do you have a coaching philosophy that you feel best summarises what you do?   

The company strap line is intelligent training, effective results. Actually a client came up with that. He would train 2-3 hours a session to no real effect, he started training with me doing 45 minute sessions and his physique started to change. I keep coming back to basics, if a push up is what we need to do then that's what we do. I also think everyone needs to train like an athlete, putting the effort in 50 out of 52 weeks a year is what gets you results. Overall, do the basics, do it with intensity and do it consistently.   

Over the years you've helped develop a number of coaches in the industry but where there any key people who you were able to learn from at different stages in your career?   

My old P.E. teacher Mr Palmer had a real passion for sport which I picked up on. 

At university Dave Kellett  was the old guard who played a big part. 

I learnt a lot from Lyn Gunson and Waimarama (Wai) Taumaunu whilst working with netabll. Both are unbelievable coaches who understood sport and physical preparation and had this ability to just read games and pick them apart. 

Not that I want to big him up, but Alywn Cosgrove is a long term friend as well as a former competitor, he's the guy I go to when I have a question.   

What's the best part of your job?   

Having an impact and helping someone achieve a goal. But don't get me wrong, there's a bit of ego in there to, no one ever gets up on a podium and thanks there physiologist but the S&C coach might get a shout out! I like the interaction and not being stuck behind a desk. I think coaches sometimes aren't viewed in the highest regard in the U.K., there's pressure on guys to move on to performance director or administration type jobs when they get older, I'm only 38 and still want to be coaching at 50.     

I understand you have an exciting few months ahead, any products or presentations you would care to tell us about? 

We're looking to continue to grow the business and we have an exciting collaboration Nike which will hopefully spark a bit of excitement. I have a few more consultancy roles coming up which is good because performance sport is my first passion. I have been collaborating with Duncan French and we are launching some information products (Prepare2Perfrom) in the near future (launches in August), which is exciting because this isn't an area coaches in the U.K. have really explored to date and I'm kept pretty busy with my website www.nickgrantham.com and helping the team at EXF-Perform Better with their workshop series.


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