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Wednesday 29th February 2012 was unique in a number of ways. As 2012 is a leap year it meant women were ‘allowed’ to propose to their partners. More importantly though it marked the first ever visit to the UK by Ian King for the purpose of educating exercise and fitness professionals. Organised by The Foundry, London, the seminar was called Programme Design for Athletic Development.

Now just to preface this if you don’t know who Ian King is, which is not entirely surprising, Ian King has developed the training programs for hundreds of elite athletes in over 20 sports and from more than 10 countries. Ian has also prepared athletes for every winter and summer Olympic Games since 1988, and every Commonwealth Games since 1984, as well as World Championships and World Cups in numerous sports.  As Chris Shugart from T-Nation stated, “The term "strength coach" doesn't completely describe what Ian does. He's a physical preparation expert. Sure, he can take an elite athlete to the top of his game, but he can also help the average guy add an inch to his arm measurements or add 20 quick pounds to his bench press.”  

So, on Wednesday 29th February 2012, it was with excited anticipation that I entered a busy lecture hall at Birkbeck College in London. Whilst it would be hard to convey in a single post everything we learnt, (partly because Ian speaks incredibly quickly and partly because we barely stopped all day), the following are some of the key take home points from the day:

  1. People need to stretch more – Ian’s most valued physical quality is flexibility. Of his four physical priorities, (Endurance, Flexibility, Speed, Strength), he ranks Flexibility number one for most people. Having written a course on advanced stretching, I’m already drinking the flexibility cool-aid, but Ian’s really focussed on stretching. Now, just to clarify this from both his perspective and mine, stretching should never be random and should always be appropriate. What I mean by that, is that although stretching has the most non-specific carryover, (i.e. if you improve hip flexibility it’ll transfer to everything), you should still know what you’re stretching and why. One of the key lessons I learnt on my MAT course, is that if something’s tight/inflexible, it’s probably for a reason. Unfortunately, with so much to cover, Ian didn’t get a chance to really go into this in depth. My own experience tells me that if you’re going to increase range in one area, you’d better stabilise it by taking up the slack somewhere else.
  2. People get really attached to their paradigms – One of the big revelations for me was how much Ian focusses on people’s commitment and readiness to change. He’ll analyse their language and pick up on the subtlest nuance that indicates resistance. As he put it, if someone’s not prepared to do what’s needed to save their career or improve their performance, I can’t help them. During the day, we actually saw athletes challenged on their commitment and attitudes, some were accepting of the process, whereas others found it uncomfortable or upsetting. It made me realise how hard it must be for some people to make a change if it conflicts with elements of their life they’re comfortable with. I’m very open about my priorities now, but 10 years ago, I’d have struggled with this too. As a personal trainer it’s rare that clients will have the deadline or motivation of the Olympics, so cut them some slack and plan for the long game.
  3. Programming is based on really simple principles – However, it’s anything but simple. For me, this was one part of the day that really highlighted the difference between good PT’s and great ones. Ian has a number of ‘rules’ for programming, many of which are now industry accepted norms, but his priority system really appealed to me. Whenever he writes a programme, the hierarchy is simple. The most important training outcome gets dealt with first, has the most volume and is performed and the highest relative intensity. One of golden rules is, what gets trained first, gets trained best. Therefore, all his programming methods are set up to take advantage of that fact.
  4. Most widgets are more about commerce than progress – Ian does not like Bosu’s, Shake Weights (who does), powerbags, or virtually any other exercise widget of the 21st century. His position is that they’re all there to sell you stuff. As a personal trainer I use kettlebells, power bands, mini bands and a couple of other widgets, but the bulk of my programming focusses on the basics, deadlifting, squatting, pulling and pressing. The health and fitness industry has become increasingly reliant on gimmicks and gadgets to keep clients entertained. As Charles Poliquin states, personal trainers are becoming more like entertainers than strength coaches. The truth is, there’s very little you can’t do with a barbell a squat rack and some dumbbells. A great example of this is my friend Jeff’s gym in New Zealand. With very little kit, (but exceptionally well sourced), Studio 41 provides a world class personal training facility that gets people healthy and strong on a daily basis. So if you really want to be a good PT, ditch the fancy stuff, or at least keep it to 20% of the workout or less, and get really good at the basics.
  5. Modern life is lousy for healthy biomechanics – I deadlift regularly and whilst I’ve no intention of becoming a powerlifter, I’ve managed to come close to a triple bodyweight lift. I say this not to brag, but rather to illustrate I’m not a novice. I’m also known as being overly fussy about technique. Unfortunately, I was lucky enough to get some one to one time with Ian, who very kindly highlighted why my deadlift has stalled. I’ve a small number of muscle imbalances that are playing havoc with my posture and I’ve become really good at compensating for that. Why? My chair in my office is rubbish (I’m now planning to change it), my car seat is as unaccommodating as possible, (I’m changing that too), and as a result I’m not using the right muscles at the right time. Having spent the last year or so, getting up in my business and breaking down adhesions, stretching, stabilising and activating, I was fairly comfortable with my posture. Unfortunately I was fooling myself. My choice is now, do I address it, or do I carry on as I was? I’ve made the decision to address it, mainly because I’ve seen the difference investing in your health makes when you get older. Far too often the idea that tomorrow never comes, means we never consider the implications today will have on it. Having a two year old daughter, I want to be able to play sports with her well into my 70’s as my father can still do with me now. To be able to do that, my training priorities need to change, as does my lifestyle. I also need to start finding ways to address those same issues in my clients even more than I do at present, because the stresses of modern life on the body are increasing not decreasing.

Ian covered so much in the seminar, this really is just the tip of the iceberg, but I think these are some of the more important points of the day. I’d also like to thank Dave and Graeme at The Foundry for going to such trouble to arrange the event. If you’re a PT you should definitely register to get updates on events they organise, as they go out of their way to source experts not necessarily in the limelight. You should probably also consider doing Ian’s Legacy course. As always, please like us on Facebook or share the article on your own page.