Seminar Review: Advanced Performance Coaching and Programming


        I imagine I'm not alone when I say I've been reading T-Nation for almost fifteen or twenty years, so it should go without saying that I'm no stranger to Coach Christian Thibaudeau's work. His use of olympic lifting and performance training-based approach to adding mass and strength resonated with me immediately and continues to, even as I shift focus away from traditional barbell/dumbbell training and towards the "unconventional toolset." Add to this that his (hopefully) legendary article, The Beast Evolves, was also one of the first articles I read that made me actually believe that I could go through my own Beast Evolution, from my then less than aesthetically and functionally pleasing self (though it's still a work in progress!), and you could say I'm a bit of a fan.

        Fast forward to a few years ago when I started really doubling down on mobility/durability training, and found Dr. John Rusin's work on Functional Hypertrophy Training, or at least bits and pieces of it in article form, again on T-Nation. Due to my time spent in gymnastics, dance, and capoeira, the idea of having both muscle mass and mobility wasn't a foreign concept to me; the missing piece was how to develop both without having to set aside specific sessions focused on correctives or FRC type work (though, don't get me wrong, love my FRC!), because I'll be honest, as much as I actually enjoy doing mobility, durability, and flexibility work, I just don't have (or make) the time to spend two or three hours in the gym every day to make sure I'm getting proper coverage, and it's likely that our clients don't either. The more I read of Dr. Rusin's work, the more I could see that his approach hit on all these touchpoints, so again, you could say I'm just a bit of a fan.

        So, full disclosure, this is pretty much the seminar I've been waiting for my entire training career, though, knowing that Dr. Rusin and Coach Thib both have extensive bodies of work, I wasn't really sure what to expect, or just how far over my head the "Advanced" concepts were going to be. Well, my friends, even though some of the presentation topics caught me off guard, it absolutely didn't disappoint. I'm glad they chose to cover the topics they did, because it made for a much more insightful seminar overall, and definitely "Advanced," though that shouldn't scare anyone off. I'd be lying if I said I didn't rethink a few of my own approaches, and got some welcome confirmation on a few others.

TL;DR: Make no mistake, this is an appropriately titled "Advanced" seminar for good reason, however, Dr. Rusin and Coach Thibaudeau's experience and knowledge of the subjects matter makes the information digestible to any level coach. Their holistic approach to assessment and programming that considers a client's psychological training profile to develop a program that resonates with the client on ALL levels, i.e. physical, mental, and emotional, is a practice we should all consider adopting in part or whole, because as Coach Thib stated so well, "We're working with humans, not numbers and percentages."

Station 1: The Beast Thinks

        Despite my self-admonition to remain open-minded to whatever Coach Thib was going to present, as I mentioned, I was still caught a little off-guard when his first couple of slides mentioned "Neurological Profiles". As the presentation progressed, I realized Coach was talking about personality and psych profile eval and assessment, which, by sheer coincidence, has been an interest of mine for many years, stemming back to my brief time as a Software Development Manager (I even went so far as to do a presentation on those topics at the Game Developers' Conference in my past life). But what exactly is the relevance towards coaching and programming, I mean, we're just here to make people sweat, get 'em a bit sore, and of course FEEL THE BURN, right?

        Well, here's part of where the "Advanced" comes in. If you've had similar experience with psychological assessments, personality tests, or otherwise as I have, i.e. through inexperienced corporate HR, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's all fluffy psychobabble with no workplace or real world application, and certainly of no use on the training floor. Since that approach is a pretty major violation of one of Coach Thib's tenets for psychological training profile assessment, that is, "If you're not going to use the data, don't do the assessment," a big part of his presentation was not just how to assess psychological training profiles, but how to program training and nutrition, including what sort of means, methods, and strategies a client is most likely to respond to, how to schedule training weeks, and some interesting nutritional programming details, everything from macro-nutrient breakdowns to supplements that might be used to balance neurotransmitter levels, all based on the initial psychological training profile assessment. This part in particular I would imagine is a significant gap in many of ours coaching game; we spend so much time thinking about ATP and lactic acid, when really we should be thinking just as much about dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine and GABA. Using Coach Thib's assessment questionnaire, which he provides, along with some careful observation of a client's training habits and preferences following his assessment protocols, should give us a good enough insight into their psychological training profile and thereby, neurotransmitter balance, to allow us to develop and deliver an "n+1" appropriate training program.

        Given my aforementioned interest in personality types and psych profiles, this part of the seminar fascinated me, and I found myself saying "Wow, that's literally me, I should think about adjusting my (training/nutrition/supplement strategy)," at least once every fifteen seconds or so, and I overheard similar sentiments from many of the other attendees. It's a bit trite to say, but with our own self-discovery and knowledge we gain the insight to help others know and discover themselves. This is part of why we coach, is it not? Lastly, Coach Thib regaled us with some "tales from the trenches," but since that'll probably change at every seminar, I can't speak too much to the specifics of that. What I can say is that Coach Thib is a master storyteller, and getting to listen to someone with his body of work and the resultant stories just talk for a bit is an awesome learning experience in and of itself, as the saying goes, "The Beast Rants, You Learn!"

Station 2: FHT For Coaches and Trainers

        Alright, so now that we have the tools to determine what sort of training methodologies and principles should resonate with an individual client and hopefully set them up for long-term success, how do we determine what that looks like "when the rubber hits the road"? Enter, Dr. John Rusin. As I mentioned above, I'd been reading his articles for a few years before the seminar, and had tried to incorporate bits of his ideas into my own programming, but something wasn't clicking. With my background in Software Engineering, I'm always looking for a system level view, and from reading his work, I knew there was one, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. The obvious answer might be to just purchase FHT online, and it certainly is a very well written program with tons of great support resources (look for my full review in about 12 weeks!), but having been through the seminar now, I can decidedly say that for a coach or trainer interested in developing programs based on Dr. Rusin's programming principles, the online FHT programs are just the tip of the iceberg.

        One of the things that Dr. Rusin and I absolutely agree on is that corrective exercises kinda suck. And that we spend way too much time performing them. And that we incorrectly leverage SMR techniques. That's three things, but hey, I'm a heavy tipper. To be honest, I'm totally guilty of all these things! I'm from the era of powerlifting that gave birth to programs that prescribed sometimes as many as 50 reps of a foam roller pass on a single body part. It's the same with correctives and mobility work. I'm the type who doesn't mind going to the gym and doing one or two hours of durability work, and I've been known to take as much as twenty minutes to perform an open-chain mobility based "warm-up." The practical reality though, as we all know, is that time is not a luxury we have when it comes to training clients, nor is it practical for us tell our clients we can't do any training movements until we've corrected their imbalances and mobility deficiencies. We need to be able to assess clients quickly using a few very simple positions and movements, assisted or otherwise, we need to warm up both the body and CNS quickly and effectively using high ROI movements and techniques (including properly applied foam rolling!), we need to "hammer the muscles and spare the joints," as Dr. Rusin puts it, by incorporating mobility and durability work into the workout, and lastly, we need to leverage high bang-for-buck recovery techniques (including properly applied foam rolling! See a pattern?) to speed the process so we can continue to train pain-free. All in sixty minutes or less.

        Impossible? Not with Dr. Rusin's approach, in fact, he goes in depth into each of the aforementioned tenets and offers multiple implementation strategies for each, as well as also providing the foundational knowledge required to apply these ideas to your own programming. You'd be correct in thinking that such an all-encompassing system is not without complexity, in fact, I could do a whole post on it (seriously, look for my FHT review in about twelve weeks!), but Dr. Rusin's presentation is incredibly succinct and detailed without being overwhelming. Watching his mobility assessment demo, I found myself thinking "Huh, Is it really that simple?" but then, I have nowhere near Dr. Rusin's level of education or practical experience, which becomes very apparent the deeper one dives into his methods (his level of, not my lack of), and confirms that it's in fact simple and complex, but ultimately can be made as simple or as complex as necessary, which to me is the sign of a well architected system. To top off the practical sections, Coach Thib joined Dr. Rusin on the floor to offer some coaching cues and performance tips for the big movements, and let's be honest, I did walk into the seminar hoping that would happen. As with the rest of the seminar information, their coaching advice was simple, basic, effective, and time/real-world tested. And you know what they say about the difference between infantry and special forces...


        The practical outcome of this is that it enables us to create programs that resonate with our clients and that they'll actually like doing. Exercises they like? Aren't we supposed to be "doing things you suck at, because if you suck at it, it's a weakness, and the only way to address the weakness to do the thing you suck at." Sure, in a way, that makes sense, but as Coach Thib illuminates, this is the sort of thinking leads to client injury, and eventually burnout, for reasons that are completely mitigable and controllable. By focusing on movements, rather than muscles and exercises, we can address those same weaknesses, and by "hammering the muscles, but sparing the joints," as Dr. Rusin puts it, we set our clients up for stronger, longer-term progress. In short, using the data provided by Coach Thib's methodologies for psychological training profile assessment as a lens through which to view Dr. Rusin's mobility and functional hypertrophy-based training principles empowers us as coaches and trainers to keep ourselves and our clients training hard, recovering well, progressing intelligently, and most of all, enjoying the training. Sounds like a win-win to me.

#Repost @lukahocevar ・・・ Day 2 of the @drjohnrusin and @thibarmy seminar on Advanced Training Programming for Hypertrophy and Performance at @vigorgroundfitness has been excellent so far. Both of these guys are world class and if you're a coach I'd highly recommend you follow them and make an effort to get to one of their seminars on the tour. Thibs presentation on assessing personality types using the Cloninger test and how it influences training, nutrition, coaching and recovery..... is amazing. We're already making notes to create some changes to level up how we do things because of it. At the end of the day we continue to challenge ourselves as a team to be the best for our clients and we continue to learn, study and grow so that we can improve our coaching, our culture, community and the results we help our amazing Vigor Fam achieve (in every area of life). #vigorground #vigorlife #fitness #health #performance #learning #coaching #success #fitfam #muscle #musclebuilding #gains #bodybuilding #fitspo #gym #gymlife #fitpro #mindset #highlevel #getfit #entrepreneur #leader #bestinworld #bodytransformation

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        For me, the biggest takeaway came from Dr. Rusin. After a conversation with Dre Spina at FRC, I was curious as to the state of the research on dynamic oscillation. Dr. Rusin's response is something I'll carry forward for the rest of my career, in short, regardless of the presence or lack of research on a given practice, every client is the "n+1" in front of you, and ultimately, that's your test case. This was a great admonition for me, as sometimes I tend to use theory and research as a bit of a safety net and discount my own experience, analysis, and synthesis (and it took me back to my Onnit Academy L1 when Coach Wolf schooled me on proper assessment for kettlebell swings...what is it with coaches named John??). This is also why I consider education a never-ending process, and why I advocate for the seminar over just buying the online courses (do both). Learn, practice, analyze, synthesize, repeat. Do them all, do them well, and do them often!

        So in closing, expect to leave this seminar with a) immediately actionable ideas and b) a higher-level framework for how to create your own assessment-based programming and training strategy. As I mentioned in the TL;DR, while the concepts presented are definitely a bit more advanced than what you're probably going to find in your typical CPT or group fitness instructor course, if you're interested in providing yourself and your clients with intelligent programming based on means, methods, and strategies that are going to keep them in the game for the long haul AND keep them progressing safely, this is unquestionably a seminar you need to attend. Additionally, I would recommend purchasing both FHT and the Maximum Muscle Bible to see what an actual implementation of the seminar concepts looks like. So get yourself to the Onnit Academy April 15th, Tickets Are Still Available, but sales end April 13th!! So overall, a little bit of the unexpected, a lot of thinking and processing, and a must for any coach looking to take it to the next level. 10/10, would attend again. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some bi-phasic stretching to do...