I've been doing it for the last 30 years.

If you work in strength and conditioning and you make some attempt to stay up to date with current trends and research in the industry, chances are you have come across the person who responds to the awkward question with something like the statement above!!

But the question is, is it okay to rely on this type of response to a question regarding the rationale of your programmes, sessions, philosophy or whatever else can be called into question??

For me as always, the answer is it depends. There are certain questions that have pretty damn solid answers that everyone should be expected to know the correct answer and implement in their programmes.

“How many reps and sets for strength, power endurance etc etc? ”
“What work to rest ratio for speed/plyometrics?”
“Is static stretching appropriate immediately before power training?”
“If I give that girl my best smile will I end up with a smile on my face?”

Okay the last one was a joke (it’s a definite yes :D)….but the rest are pretty much clear cut these days and should be administered accordingly. However there is a lot of other stuff that actually does not have a solid scientific background that we use everyday, which makes questions in our programmes difficult to answer. Such as:

“Why do you put glute activation work into that session?”
“Why would you choose to do contrast or complex training and can you justify the rest interval you are using?
“ Why do you make your athletes take vitamin D?”

The list goes on and on and the answer to these questions will generally be an opinion rather than a fact backed up by hard scientific evidence. I think that there is a trend in strength and conditioning to come down hard on people who don’t come from a rock solid science based philosophy of programme design and implementation. My feeling is that as long as you can come up with a rationale for the exercise/supplement/programme design etc etc that you are prescribing as the coach, that is okay! Its okay because we are coaches after all aren’t we? And its okay to try things out and be creative. We need to ideally be in a position to measure improvements subjectively and objectively if possible as a result of these interventions whether its through performance gains, movement analysis etc, however sometimes you just have to go with your opinion that something works and run with it. I’m certainly not a scientist, I love the science behind training and make an attempt to stay up to date with the research, but in truth it would be detrimental to my programmes to take the pure science approach because I would have to take out some things that I really believe in as a coach…..hell, is there even a solid evidence base for foam rolling?? For sure there is a rationale for it, but can this be backed up with hard evidence? The evidence that most people would use is that their athletes feel a lot better for doing it and it seems to improve movement quality as a result…..I think that’s good enough for me!!

As coaches we need to stay on the cutting edge of the research and use it to guide and inform our practice rather than dictate what we do and don’t prescribe, but don’t forget that its our coaching that gets the results, not the science. Its our coaching that improves people and its our creativity that provides the scientists with things to investigate. The coaches lead the scientists not the other way round and that s the way it always should be!!

Keep training hard, thats all for today!!

Brendan Chaplin MSc CSCS ASCC
Brendan Chaplin MSc CSCS ASCC is a performance specialist and strength and conditioning coach. Currently he is Head of Strength and Conditioning for Leeds Met Carnegie in the UK and consults with governing bodies, sports teams, institutions and individuals looking to perform, look or feel their best. Follow him on twitter @brendanchaplin, check out his website www.brendanchaplin.co.uk.