Paul Oneid MS. MS. CSCS. – The Importance of Strength Training & Youth Development

Paul is an elite strength and conditioning coach and co-owner of Master Athletic Performance.

Paul Oneid MS. MS. CSCS. – The Importance of Strength Training & Youth Development

Paul is a certified strength and conditioning coach for athletes both amateur and professional across a multitude of sports. Paul comes to the table with two master’s degrees, one in Exercise Science and the other in Sports Management. Additionally, Paul is certified as a strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), as well as a certified exercise physiologist. With over 14 years of experience as a strength coach, Paul has extensive insight into the topics of strength development for injury prevention, strength training post-injury, along with rehabilitation and athlete maintenance and development.

(This transcript was created using and then briefly proof-read)

You train quite a few professional athletes right now that are doing competitions like this, how do you end up training them in order to do to injury prevention in general?

Whenever we talk about injuries, it’s always a conversation of load versus tissue tolerance. Whenever we have a soft tissue injury, because the load is either acute or chronic, applied that that tissue exceeds its capacity. So the only way to increase the capacity of a tissue is to provide a graded exposure to to load in a stepwise manner. So we talked about progressive overload, if you did too much too fast with anything, whether it’s running or lifting, you’re going to have a response from the body that doesn’t suit your needs, right. So if I have someone starting out lifting, too much, too much volume, they’re either gonna have joint pain or tendinitis, tendinosis, or they’re gonna just straight up injure themselves. So what we try to do is we try to start slow, grade it up, and then get to that happy point where they’re making progress, but not doing too much. They’re able to manage their fatigue, and then we slowly increase intensity over time.

Paul (left) coaching deadlift exercise at 613 Lift. (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada)
Paul (left) coaching deadlift exercise at 613 Lift. (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada)

So if you had somebody new, like, for example, myself, I just came off a surgery a few months ago, and I haven’t trained for probably six months. If I were to get back into training, I’m essentially starting from zero at this point, especially below the knee, where I had surgery. How do you gauge that kind of development, where it’s maybe misaligned with the rest of the body, and then also from a very, very beginner perspective, because a lot of people that we deal with on a daily basis are students, or people who don’t have any kind of background, in sports, training, anything like that. They’re just brand new to and they think, “Okay, I’m going to do X sport” (usually it’s running), but it depends, they run into same issue, where they just do like you said too much too fast. But then how do you actually gauge all that?

So we use a number of a number of metrics, some subjective, some objectives. So in terms of objective metrics, it would be you know, we look at heart rate variability, or resting heart rate, first thing in the morning, we look for lifestyle variables, like how much are you sleeping? How’s your nutrition, hydration metrics as well?

Then we look at subjective metrics of how’s your sleep? How’s your sex drive? How’s your appetite? How is your motivation to train? And we look at your mood, your stress levels, all of these things, in this kind of holistic look at the person from, you know, who is this person? And how are they responding to what we’re doing. In terms of the strength training intervention…I mean, I would love to sit here and say strength training is rocket surgery, but it’s not.

We are applying loads to the body in patterns that either mimic or will reinforce proper mechanics of the sport, or we’re putting them into patterns that will kind of undo the damage that we’ve done within our sport. With runners, you often see very tight hip flexors, we’re seeing compensations within the low back, we’re seeing tight ankles, we’re seeing over pronation or supination. Then up the chain we’re seeing poor core stability, poor pelvic alignment, we’re seeing breathing mechanic issues, poor rotation through the thoracic spine, so everything up and down the chain. We’re talking about shin splints today, but your shin splints can actually be caused by poor thoracic rotation and a shitty gait pattern. Well, if we address your thoracic rotation, we allow you to level off your head keep you more stable, and you don’t have as many forces on the foot. You could also be in a situation where your hip flexors are just genuinely weak and you’re reaching your feet forward trying to pull through the heel. That’s also not a not an advantageous position to be in either. And it just reinforces up and down the chain.

So having a greater understanding as a strength coach is like, what you’re looking for from the athlete in terms of game mechanics, where their breakdowns are, having the ability to kind of test, retest their assessments on the go. So if you have a good strength coach, every time they prescribe you a training program they’re using their eyes to assess you every session.

You do that initial assessment with them. But that assessment happens every training session. You know, if they see breakdowns, they’re gonna want to address them. If they see, you know, areas in which are no longer weaknesses, well, they need to move on and progress you from those areas. And as the as you kind of see what the way I’m talking, it’s always a graded, right? You start slow, we start simple and increase complexity as we go. But without an adequate and accurate starting point. It’s like Google Maps, right? I know where I want to go. Where I want to go – that point B, is an efficient gait pattern with no shin splints. If I’m starting from point A with shin splints but I don’t know where that’s coming from, I don’t have a starting point. So once I have that starting point, I can start to develop a plan to get to.

That’s one of the reasons why we ended up recommending people go see either a sports medicine doctor or a competent, qualified physiotherapist. We stress “competent” in that, just based on experience, a lot of coaches, a lot of people in the fitness industry, it’s kind of a mixed bag. Which is why another aspect that we end up seeing a lot is the couch to 5K programs where it’s a general program, which is completely opposite of what you just said, right? Where it’s tailored to the individual, they have somebody guiding them through every step of the process, saying, okay, you’re doing this incorrectly, you’re doing that incorrectly. But I would say 98% of people do general programs. I mean, heck, we have our own website, like we have the 1X20RM program by Dr. Yessis. It’s a slightly modified to do a little more below the knee work on Saturday. But beyond that, it’s a general program to try and get somebody into it.

If somebody came to you, and you couldn’t train them in person, you were too busy or whatnot, how would you end up teaching them how to essentially evaluate another coach or a medical professional to say, “Okay, this person knows what they’re talking about. I will work with them, I feel safe with them, they know what they’re doing.”?

I’m very lucky in that the population that I deal with for the most part was strength athletes – I’m well connected. And wherever you are within say, Canada and the US, I could probably hook you up with a good practitioner.

When it comes to sports where I don’t work with as many athletes. Runners…I don’t work with many track and field athletes anymore, but I have had a few, the best thing I would say is within your community, there are people already entrenched there. Don’t try to go in cold. People always come to me and say “oh I went to go see this guy” and I go, “okay, where did you hear about them?” “oh, I just called up a clinic…”

Okay, but your friends have 50 other people who do exactly what you do. You don’t think that one of them works with a really competent professional? Right? There are people already in this community that are have reputations. I would ask around, I would get maybe five or six names, I would look at each of their profiles say, this person a runner? Is this person participating in the activity? Or do they have experience working with others who participated in the activity? And then from there, you can look at what their actual qualifications are? Are they a physio? Do they have their CSCS maybe as a physio? Are they an athletic trainer? Do they have experience working with multiple sports? There are a lot of different ways to evaluate.

The other way is to go in and speak to them. If you get blanket answers, that’s probably not someone that you want to go see, right? If you go to your first appointment, they’re like, “Hey, have you tried ne shoes?” Chances are if you’re in their office, you probably already tried new shoes, right? Or, “hey, have we tried orthotics?” or “Hey, have you tried this…” and like, I’m not gonna sit here and bash orthotics and new shoes, because I wear orthotics when I squat. But that was after a long list of other interventions that I tried, before I went towards we’ll call it a band aid solution.

Paul (right) wrapping his athlete's knees at ShellShock powerlifting meet. (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada)
Paul (right) wrapping his athlete’s knees at ShellShock powerlifting meet. (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada)

Well, that’s one of the reasons why I like strength training so much as a solution for shin splints. That tends to be the over prescribed method of fixing them is to fix your shoes. And then maybe some people will go a little bit further than that and say, oh, you need to do this, that and another thing in terms of, maybe looking at the surface you run on, maybe looking at your actual mechanics. Which is for some reason really overlooked. I don’t know why but it is. And then, with the powerlifting population or more strong men just because of the yoke carry..

Well strongman is dynamic. Powerlifting…it’s literally illegal to move your feet.

But if you walk back…you’re not allowed to walk out then on a competition, if you’re squatting?

That would be the only time you’re ever allowed to. And if you get shin splints from taking three steps, well…

There was a guy today who was complaining about that. I’m not 100% sure what was going on in the video he posted. It was from the back. It was very difficult to see what was really going on. And obviously, I’m not overqualified to look at that kind of thing. But the shoes he was wearing…for some reason in lifting it comes to mind, because a lot of people will lift in gel injected rubber shoes, where as soon as they step it splays out and their foot no longer has a solid platform. And you can see on the video his feet just start wobbling like this and…Ironically enough, as the least favorite thing to look at being shoes, in this instance it would be something that should get properly addressed.

With anyone who knows what they’re doing in powerlifting. You’re not gonna have that issue because they know that they need a stable platform, they need a wide toe box, they need, you know, this kind of like blanket list of things that we look for a shoe for powerlifting. But if someone in powerlifting, is having issues with shin splints, or shin pain or ankle issues, it’s very easily addressed within the assistance work that you choose. Most people will tell you you need to mobilize, mobilize, mobilize. Maybe you just have unstable hips, right?

So if you have an unstable hip, that’s going to not allow your knee to track over the foot where it needs to. So your knee may track with more of a valgus positioning over the big toe, or even inside the big toe, which is going to collapse the arch, which is going to limit the amount of ankle mobility you have. Whereas if the hip is stable, the knee can remain over the framework of the foot, the arch can remain intact, and then you can drive that knee over the toe.

Paul (left) preparing his athlete to squat at ShellShock powerlifting meet. (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada)
Paul (left) preparing his athlete to squat at ShellShock powerlifting meet. (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada)

I find with me squatting, I end up always rotating on the outside of my feet because it feels more stable. So would that be incorrect?

Are you actually rolled onto the outside of your feet? Are you maintaining the full foot pressure on the floor?

The full foot is touching but I wouldn’t say it’s pressure…like you couldn’t you, you couldn’t pull out a piece of paper from underneath. Because I’ve had that tested…

I’d have to see you move, but typically, when that happens when people are rolling onto the outsides of their feet, it’s an issue with the width of their stance. So if you’re trying to drive your knees out so hard that you’re on the outside edge of your foot, usually put your feet just slightly wider, you end up in that right position.

Well, the way that I was taught was that squatting, when you’re an athlete that runs a lot, if you have a wider squat, you don’t run being wide. So you should be parallel feet and more directly in line with the way you run.

You also don’t run with two feet on the ground.

That’s true.

Are you using the squad as a means to improve your running? Are you using a squad as a means to generally improve the strength of your lower body?

I would say it’s a full body exercise essentially just because of stabilizing everything.

I think we get too bogged down with specificity in those instances. When I trained baseball players, coach would say “don’t bench press my players”. Okay, well, how do I get them to display pressing power? How do I get more strength into the upper body? And they’re like, “oh I don’t know, you’re the strength coach!” Okay, well, we’re gonna bench press, but we’re going to do so with a fat grip bar which is going to stabilize the shoulder, put less tension across the peck… There are ways to work around that where we can still achieve a general strength adaptation. And then when we go to practice our sport, we have a dynamic correspondence. So when we’re looking at the question of squatting for a powerlifter, I would coach the squat differently than I would for a runner. In the sense of, am I looking for competition depth on a runner? Probably not. I don’t really care if they can go into full hip and knee flexion at the same time.

Why not though, just because the movement doesn’t reflect that or because…?

Because it’s not necessarily required to get full benefits. If I had a runner who had discomfort squatting to full depth. Okay, we’re talking, you know, hip below top surface of the knee, tall posture, forward knee travel, all those things. But I can get them to squat to a box one inch about parallel and we can load that movement. They didn’t have any strain on the lumbar spine. their knees weren’t bothering them. Well, I can get the most at the least there.

But would you try and get them to full depth eventually?

But I can get access to that range with other movements that wouldn’t put them under pressure. Like I could do split squats, I can do a whole bunch of different step-up variations and things like that. Strength training is GPP. Strength training is general physical preparedness. That barbell is no longer the end, right? For a powerlifter, the barbell squat is their is their sport. The barbell squat is a tool for a runner. So are you going to use a hammer on a screw, or you can use a hammer and a nail? Not all runners are nails. Not all runners are screws. You might need a screwdriver, you might need a hammer, you might need a wrench, you know, there’s a whole lot of tools at our disposal to get the desired adaptation.

This is something I try to hit home with powerlifting coaches, because I do a lot of mentoring for coaches, is just because you have an emotional attachment to exercise or modality doesn’t mean it’s going to be great for everybody. And that’s not something that’s sexy, right? It’s not something like like you do this, you improve your writing times, well, if you lift weights will probably improve your running times to a degree. But if you lift weights properly with a program that suits your needs, well now you’re absolutely going to improve your running times. But what is that? I don’t know until you’re in front of me.

Having the baseline knowledge to choose movements that are suitable for the athlete and suitable for their weaknesses, that does take some attention to detail.

Paul (right) handing off benchpress for his athlete at ShellShock powerlifting meet. (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada)
Paul (right) handing off benchpress for his athlete at ShellShock powerlifting meet. (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada)

Well, I think that’s a big thing for me personally, because I’m terrible at squatting in terms of depth at least with a narrower stance in that mindset. And then over the past few years, the focus has been more on quality of movement as tier one. But the other thing too, has been range of motion, and getting full range of motion, where, like you said, you can get it another exercise. So if you’re not getting it in one, you can always get it somewhere else.

But range of motion to me is pretty much tier one in terms of injury prevention, because if you can only move, let’s say 30 degrees instead of 90 degrees a given movement. For example, if you are trail running and you hit uneven terrain, it can cause a pull or a tear because it extended your range of movement beyond your capability. Or in hockey, where people are trying to hit you and put you in un-advantageous positions that can push you beyond your movement capabilities.

Yes, but my question would be to what degree? You have to have the buffer area. So call it like painting the fringes. So you know that you need to have strength within the joint angles that are appropriate for your sport. Taking team sports is a little bit of a different one. Because there’s so wide ranging right, like hockey players do so many different things on their skates. When you talk range of motion, we have to think, are we talking joint range of motion? Or do your movement range of motion? Are we talking muscle range of motion?

What’s the difference?

So muscular range of motion would be how much can I stretch this muscle? If I apply force to it, how long can I get it? When we talk about joint range of motion? Well, now you have multiple muscle groups stabilizing a joint as you move through space. So what’s the appropriate range that’s right there. And then we will get move a range of motion can be specific for the movement. So your range of motion within a squat might be full range of motion for a squat, but you’re only using partial ranges of motion of the joints and muscles.

So when you understand that and you look at the needs and requirements of the sport. A runner is going to have maybe, just for ease of use, we’ll call it 90 degrees hip flexion. You’re gonna have 90 degrees knee flexion. We’re going to be in dorsiflexed ankle position. If I can train them to 115 that’s probably safe. I’m sure there’s research to suggest that what joint angles would be most appropriate to train. This returns back to your issues of the squat.

So if I’m a runner, you have trouble squatting with a narrow stance to depth, maybe you don’t need to, right? But if I widen your stance, maybe flare your toes out just slightly, that opens up your hips a little more, that gives you more space and frees up some degrees of freedom in your ankle. And now you can have more depth. Are you going to be a better runner because it puts you into that position? Maybe, maybe not.

It would certainly allow you to train the squat in a more quality position. But is that going to transfer over? I think there’s, there’s always a trade off to everything. So we talked about partial range of motion squat versus full range of motion squat, there’s a ton of research being done in partial range of motion squatting, as it relates to force production. So for vertical jump performance, or in track & field often we’ll use this – partial range of motion squats from an isometric start point. So you set the bar at a height that’s about three to four inches above parallel, apply maximal force to the barbell stand up, replace it back to the pins.

It’s a partial range of motion squat, there’s no eccentric component. I make a ton of force like that. Take the pins away, have me go to full range, I can’t produce as much force because there’s a greater distance and there’s a lesser bar weight. So am I going after force production? Or am I going after range of motion within a movement? What am I using that for? My argument to that would be you have to have an intent. So if I asked you, Hey, why are you partially range of motion squatting? And you’ve told me, I want to maximize my force production? Great, let’s do it.

If you said hey, I want to I want to train the squat as a means of strength in my whole body through a large range of motion. So I guess we’re going full range of motion squat. If we want to get the best of both worlds, maybe we go partial range of motion to a box.

There’s times and places for everything, an endurance runner likely wouldn’t do much power open stuff, right, because their volume of training with their distance running is so high, that they can’t allocate those recovery resources to train heavy. So what are they going to do, they’re going to train with moderate delay loads, they’re going to focus on movement quality, they’re going to train likely with a higher reps and reserve so further away from failure. And they’re going to focus on building a little bit more volume within the tissue, to allow it to be more resilient to the distances that they’re running. It doesn’t, it doesn’t mean that they’re not weight training, it just means that their weight training a little bit differently.

Paul Oneid benchpressing 75lbs dumbbells on an inclined bench at 613 Lift in Ottawa, Ontario.
Paul training at 613 Lift in Ottawa, Ontario.

We see a lot of high school athletes don’t have access to coaches that are good depending on where they are. They’re not in big national programs or other programs. We see a lot of volume prescribed to these kids. We posed this to Jason last podcast – 18 and 19 year old’s were expected to do 60 to 120 kilometers of running per week. This seems like a crazy level of volume for kids.

But more is better, didn’t you know that?

Well, that’s the thing, too. If you’re a kid and your coach is prescribing all this stuff to you, you have little option, right? Because you have to listen to your coach. What advice can you give to those kids to try and battle their way through that without getting injured and without sacrificing performance essentially? Some of them might be lucky and go through puberty a bit earlier and be able to tolerate it more, but even still…

So in high school, I would say that the onus is on the parents more than the athlete. The best thing I would say is educate yourself and bring data – bring hard evidence. If you think that what you’re doing is not appropriate, call around ask what other people are doing call other high schools. What’s the best high school program in the country? Call them and say “Hey, what’s your program look like? How many kilometers a week are you running?”

One thing that I used to do when I was a young coach is I was given a new team that I’ve never worked with before. What jumps out to me is women’s lacrosse. At my second year at Robert Morris, I’d been given the women’s lacrosse team. I’m like, man, I’ve never played lacrosse in my life. So what did I do? I called Duquesne. I called North Carolina and I called all these places, and I said, “Hey, I’m a new coach. It’s my second as a GA as a graduate assistant, I’ve been tasked with this team, do you mind sharing your programs with me?”

Every single one of them sent me their program. People want to help other people. And the more hard data you can bring to your coach and say, “Hey coach, I’m really not feeling like I’m performing at my best. Here’s some evidence as to what the best of the best programs in the country are doing. I’m not trying to tell you that what you’re doing is wrong. I’m just trying to provide you some information that might lead you to the direction that hey, I may not be doing the best by these athletes.”

That’s a tough conversation to have. Because it calls into question the ego to a large degree. And anytime that you challenge someones ego, you’re risking pushback. But if that coach is worth his salt, or her salt, they will be open minded to changing their approach. Because as a coach, number one, the only thing that matters is if your athletes have bought into your system. I don’t care if your program is written with a crayon on a friggin McDonald’s napkin. If your athlete thinks that that program is what’s gonna make them successful, and they bust their ass to do that program as well as they can, it’s gonna be better than the fanciest, most data driven programming you’ve ever written in your life.

That’s one of the things that Jason talks about, too, is that the kind of emotional state and motivation of his athletes is a bigger priority in a way than even just physical training. Some people come in from other programs, whether it be a club program or another school. And their whole mentality is stress. They can’t even enjoy the sport they’re doing at that point, because they’re so stressed out that “I need to make this volume, I need to make this weight, I need to do all these things.”

How much of that do you end up dealing with on a daily basis versus actual strength training and programming?

All of it. What we do as coaches is stress management. So training is a stressor, and life is a stressor, it’s all cortisol. So what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to modulate a stimulus to achieve a desired adaptation. If my athlete doesn’t have enough adaptive reserve to recover from training, it doesn’t really matter what I do with them, it’s not gonna work.

So I have to teach them how to reframe their outlook on the process of training, how to look at training as a means, right? It’s a tool, it’s a tool to get an outcome. When I remember, I can point to it directly…I just took on an MMA fighter who’s prepping for a fight in 11 weeks, and he’s like, I want a strength training program that’s gonna be tailored to my needs. And I sent him his program. He’s like, ”Is this four days, or am I supposed to do this all in one day?” And I was like “it’s four days, man”. And then he’s like, it’s really low volume. And I said, of course it is. Because it’s our first week together, it’s going to taper up. And then it’s going to come back down as we approach the fight. Your intensity is going to be high throughout, and you’re going to be pushing yourself. And he’s like “Okay, I can get behind this.”

People have these preconceived notions that shape their perceptions, right, your perception shapes your responses to a large degree, right? The whole, the whole concept of perception is reality. And this is why the bio psychosocial model has become so prevalent, is because it’s completely accurate. Your mental state is going to impact your physiology, the environment and your social experience is going to impact your physiology, and your physiology is going to feed back in and affect those other two things. It’s a cycle.

As a coach, your job is to kind of play gatekeeper between the stressors of the outside world, the stressors that you’re trying to apply within the training environment, and provide a space for your athlete to adapt in a positive manner to what you’re trying to do. It’s really tough. Especially because athletes are people and if you’re dealing with students, they’re also dating, they have to get good grades, they have to appease their parents, they have to eat well, they have to sleep enough that they have a good Instagram profile. They have all of these things that they have to do – it’s exhausting!

Paul Oneid performing a dip variation with chains for additional weight t 613 Lift in Ottawa, Ontario.
Paul performing a dip exercise variation with chains for additional weight at 613 Lift

A lot of the information we have been getting recently points to “lower volume is better”, because of exactly what you just spoke about – the stress. People have so much stress they need to manage in their day-to-day lives. If all of this stress was gone, would you say that higher volume would be better?

It wouldn’t necessarily be better, but you’d be able to tolerate it more. And then it’s a question of, would you be better to increase volume or increase intensity? Because is there a top? Is there a ceiling for the most volume? When we look at strength training there’s a threshold by which muscle protein synthesis is increased. So there’s a number of total sets in which you maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis. So there’s not really a point to go beyond that It’s not that you’re not getting anything, but that light switch has already turned on.

The prevailing thought would be that it’s better to flip that light switch more often than to flip it on and keep it. That’s why the there’s been lately a shift towards more higher frequency training. More often, we flipped that switch to the more positive nitrogen balance. Whereas if you accumulate more volume above that threshold, that volume comes with additional fatigue that needs to be dissipated. So it’s how deep are you digging your ditch?

It’s another way of looking at it, right. So every time you’re training, you’re digging a ditch, when you’re recovering, and eating and sleeping and managing your stress, you’re filling that ditch in. Eventually it becomes a mountain. Right? So you dig it, build it up higher, you dig it, you build it up higher. So as a coach is looking at, like, for this athlete, at what point do I say, maybe they don’t need to run more, they just need to run better or faster during their training times. Because ultimately, the distance of the race won’t change, right? If you’re a 5K runner – you’re a 5K runner. A marathon runner, you’re marathon runner. Running more marathons won’t necessarily make you better at running marathons. Right? Your split times have to improve. And if your split times improve your endpoints improve.

So how do you modulate that kind of intensity for kids? For high school athletes? We advocate for the 1x20RM program because it is designed for youth and new athletes or athletes rehabilitating an injury.

Never jump into anything, and then it comes back to the graded exposure. So you start slow. So the 1×20 program is super simple. We just repeat it quite often, right? Because we know that initially, the gains that are made with beginners are neurological, they’re not increased sarcoplasmic hypertrophy they’re just getting more efficient neurologically, they’re learning how to move. And in learning how to move their neurological coordination improves, they can perform with more efficiency, they can increase the load. So frequency is definitely going to be a positive factor there, which is why a 1×20 program works so well.

I wouldn’t even recommend jumping into a “high intensity strength training program” until you are very proficient with the movements. And that, to be honest, to get to a level that’s proficient, it doesn’t really take that long. And if you keep repeating the movement, you start to get into a groove. I ask you to squat and you can perform 10 reps and look moderately the same, then we can start looking at increasing the load. But then we get into the idea of, are we training to get better at training? Or are we training to get better at running, hockey, basketball, volleyball, you know, where is that strength training within the scope of my athletic development?

So, my answer about the kids, how do I know when to adjust their volumes? Especially because in a high school setting, you’d like to have a larger group of children. I would have a range of volumes that I would prescribe, I would have tiers of athletes. And I would have each tier assigned to a different volume prescription. And then I would shuffle them back and forth, depending on their performances, their feedback – both subjective and objective and their performances within the training.

That’s usually what we did. Like whenever I was dealing with sports teams that have, you know, freshmen to seniors, I would just tear them off. And it would be funny because you have some freshmen lifting the fourth-year players, simply because of their previous experience, you have some seniors who never took weightlifting seriously at their previous schools training with freshmen. And you would think that would pose a challenging mental environment. But it was actually great because the girls were competing against one another to foster a really competitive environment. And they were all pushing each other to be better. By the end of the season, they were all in that top group.

Training intensity in relation to puberty is also a big concern. I was talking to a kid last week in middle school, who sprints. He trains with teammates and friends who seem to be much more developed than he is. How do you manage this kind of situation?

You would stratify them. I’m a big fan of the long term athlete development model. It works, it’s very simple. It gives good very concrete guidelines. And if you are the parent of an athlete, in that puberty age, I suggesting you get very familiar with this. I know having worked with some youth clubs within the city, they do hold to it very closely. The Ottawa Mavericks jumps to the top of my head, they’re a volleyball club in the city. They do a phenomenal job. They train over a Capital Strength with a good friend of mine, Nick Haines. And they abide by the long term athlete development model, they take their time, implementing movement through space, teaching athletes to stabilize their bodies and move efficiently. A large focus on the quality of movement and injury prevention. And, to be honest, it doesn’t need to get more complicated than that. The only time it gets more complicated is the forces that you’re dealing with and the amount of loading.

We’re also looking at, like, you know, a U15 men’s team is probably going to be loading the same as a U16 women’s team. Because women go through puberty quicker than men. Then eventually it equates at that U17/U18 level. So that would be number one is looking at the LTAD. And then number two, is having the ability to quantify metrics of progress. So whether you give your athletes a questionnaire every day, whether there’s a conversation that gets had amongst the group, like hey, how you guys feeling? You know, there needs to be some form of feedback that you can draw from and say, like, Am I getting what I need to be getting out of this group?

Paul training a single-arm cable bicep curl with a fat-grip at 613 Lift in Ottawa, Ontario
Paul training a single-arm cable bicep curl with a fat-grip at 613 Lift

Because you are talking about kids who train with your friend. Often kids will do a school program, and competitive parents who want their child to be the next Connor McDavid will then sign them up for additional training with another coach or program, how are they going to manage that kind of load?

There’s gonna be that odd kid who just loves what they’re doing and wants to do it night and night out. But in my experience, that’s not the majority of children. You know, the majority of children want to play they want to have a life. I can remember back to my brother and like my brother played, played at Queen’s for five years, came back played at Algonquin College here for volleyball, and he would want to play volleyball 24/7/365 even if no one required him to.

Most kids aren’t like that. Most kids develop better when they have a wide range of skills. A great book that I would recommend to any parent whose child is looking at high level performance sport is Range by David Epstein. Tremendous book. He discusses how LeBron James was All-American football and basketball. All the best performers also played numerous sports growing up, and that early sports specialization doesn’t necessarily lead to later in life successes.

For example, in the Little League World series. I think only like 2% of the kids who played the Little League World Series ever make it to Major League Baseball. It’s a very, very, very low percentage.

I guess that translates to GPP as well, because if they’re so specialized, they’re constantly just walking on a tightrope all the time rather than having a whole field to play in, in terms of growth and development…

Growth and development. Also tissue stress. Say you’re a pitcher. If you’ve accumulated hundreds of thousands of pitches before you even show up to high school, that’s a lot of strain on that joint that’s in development. So think about puberty, if you specialize after puberty, I would say the outcomes are going to be much more positive. But if you’ve accumulated that tissue stress during a period in which your tissues are more malleable, it’s going to be really challenging to avoid, I would say catastrophic injury, as you transition out of puberty and into a competitive disadvantage.

Because you’ve just been damaging it the whole time?

You’ve been crushing volume on that tissue, right? It’s tissue load over tolerance. Load can be acute or chronic.

I would have figured, because they’re still growing and developing, it would mean they would heal better and faster. And I’m assuming that’s what most parents think as well.

Well, the other thing you could point to is that if they’re always growing and developing, their performance metric and execution is going to be always changing, because the limb length is going to change, the levers are going to change and the physics are going to change. And so you never actually established a stable pattern.

So some months they might be good and next month, they’ll be terrible because they can’t adapt to it.

Running’s a little bit different though, because it’s such a such a foundational human pattern. Throwing a baseball or shooting a basketball or something like that’s something we “invented”. We’ve been running our entire evolution. Right, so, I’m a big believer in running as far as a method of physical fitness. But that being said, there’s always the conversation of load and tolerance.

We see a lot of overweight people trying to lose weight, try and get in shape. And not even just overweight, but people who have been inactive for a very long time, possibly their whole lives, depending. Then they try and do something, which is a very, very high impact sport, where the amount of ground force you’re producing while running is so severe. But that’s people’s expectations, they can just pop on running shoes and go for a 5K.

I’ll give you an example. I’ll use myself. So, I am 5’9’’, 230 pounds, probably sitting around 10% body fat, so I’m relatively lean. I’m not going to go run 5K. Why? Because I haven’t run in probably 10 years. What would I do? I would probably walk/jog 1 minute on, 1 minute off…for maybe 2K. I would do that a few times. And then I would increase from there. It’s all about graded exposure. Where people get in trouble is they just try to do too much too fast. That’s with everything.

How can a person gauge that for themselves? You know your body very well, but how can someone tell if they can increase mileage or maybe need to decrease?

That’s a tough one. I’m almost of the mind that if you play with fire and burn yourself a few times, you’ll figure out where that point is. But there is a reason that C25K program is so popular – it works. It’s helped so many people. If you are picking up running and you’ve never run before, a program like that would be tremendous because it’s going to err on the side of caution. And if you decide that this isn’t something you really enjoy, then invest in coaching. Invest in someone teaching you how to do this properly. They can prescribe a program that is suitable to you, to your particular physiology – your needs.

But in my opinion, you kind of have to play with it a little on your own beforehand. Because you don’t want to spend a bunch of money on coaching and then realize you don’t really like it.

You also need to be realistic. If you weigh 300lbs and you want to run 5K and you currently have a step count under 2,000, you might want to start by getting your step count to 5,000 walking. Drop a few pounds. There’s levels to this.

That’s why we bang on the drum for people to do 10,000 steps a day minimum.

As far as 10,000 steps a day goes, whenever I do lifestyle interventions with my clients I start off with just 8,000. Because that’s where you are going to get the minimum effective dose of insulin resistance protection, heart disease protection, etc. Then you look at every 1,000 steps there’s a culminant increase in resistance to disease. Up to about 12,000 steps. 10,000 seems to be the minimum.

Looking at that you say, “how many steps is 10,000?” – it’s about 60 minutes of walking. If I wake up and go for a 10-minute walk, and then a 10-minute walk mid-day, if I’m training, I have a 10 min walk before my workout, 10 min after my workout, and 10 minutes before bed – that is 50 minutes of walking. I haven’t even done anything really hard, and probably got another 10 minutes throughout my day. Boom, I’m at 10,000 steps. Really not that hard.

If someone started at about 5,000 steps – how long would you have them take to get to 10,000?

About 3-4 months. Take it slow. There is no rush. It’s not like once you get to 10,000 steps a day for a full week the flood gates are going to open and rain health down upon you. It took you 30 years to get into the health position you are in now, the goal is to establish routine behaviours that don’t take any thought and you can repeatedly produce daily for the rest of your life.