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- Please tell us something about yourself: where and when were you born and places you lived. Where do you live now?
I was born in Reading, PA and moved around quite a bit for career and personal reasons. I spent a lot of time on Long Island before moving to Cleveland to help run a gym. That gym didn’t do well for reasons 100% out of my control and then I moved to Oklahoma City where I currently am living. The south is a lot different from where I was raised and where I call home, but I enjoy it here and there is a ton of potential in this area for what I do.
- How would you describe yourself as a child? Very active? What types of activity interested you the most? Did you get involved with sports at an early age?
I “won” some playground award as a kid for most athletic, so I will run with that one until I die. I was a pretty active kid. I raced BMX, played soccer, baseball, ran track, tennis, I swam for a short time, played football, basketball, ice hockey, some strongman later in life and ended up with my last – and favorite sport – of rugby which I played until 2008.
- Was any athlete your hero as a kid? If so, who?
Just one. Bo Jackson. I used to tape his baseball games on VHS when I couldn’t stay up late to watch them. I would watch every game of his that was on TV and during his FB career the Raiders were nationwide coverage. I had his posters on my wall and even had his Nike Cross Training shoes. He was the apex of what an athlete was in my eyes and still is.
- Were you involved in sports during High school? How was that experience? At that age, did you already entertain the idea of becoming professionally involved with sports/training?
I played football and some baseball in High School. I didn’t entertain the idea of being a professional at anything to do with sports until after high school. I had a pro football workout in 1998 and during that time, when working with my friend who played WLAF (World League of American Football) for the Barcelona Dragons was when I decided to give this training thing a shot and see what happens.
- When and how did you decide to become a coach? Can you tell us a little about that choice and what it involved? Did your family support your decision?
It was in the late 1990’s when I decided to become a trainer. My first certification was a weekend seminar in Atlantic City for the AAAI/ISMA. During that weekend we sat through lectures, learned quite a bit and had to take a 3 hour test on Sunday along with a practical where we had to train another instructor. It wasn’t an easy weekend as the hours were long, the information we had to absorb was quite detailed and the test was designed in a way to not give you the easy way out. If you didn’t go into this weekend prepared, you would fail badly and end up wasting seminar money, travel money and hotel fees. It wasn’t some online test, it was the best thing I could have done for myself early in my career. I think I slept about 2 hours a night because of studying while in AC.
- Did you / are you involved in sports as an athlete? If so, how is your experience as an athlete influence your decisions in coaching?
I used to help coach a few youth sports like basketball, baseball, football and rugby. I enjoy them completely and I have a level head when dealing with kids. I have a philosophy that I single out the worst kid on the team and try to make him better. Of course I coached everyone but I really wanted that shy kid to step up his game.
One time when coaching JV FB we had a center who was the biggest kid on the team. He hit like he was the smallest and that wasn’t going to fly when he was getting pushed around by kids almost half his size. One practice I said, “you are going to hit me the entire day, Alan”. I lined up across from him the entire practice and made him try to block me. Keep in mind I was 300 pounds and a few months away from my pro football workout. I didn’t lay into him full force, he was a kid, but I pushed him around and was showing him how to use his size to his advantage. I didn’t have a single pad on and one play he got the perfect position and drove his helmet into my face busting open my mouth pretty bad. As I was bleeding all over my shirt he said, “I am sorry, Coach, didn’t mean to do that” I just looked at him and said, “why the hell are you sorry?? That is how I want you to play!!! You hit every kid across from you the same way you just hit me!! You are the biggest kid on this team and you can dominate if you use your power.”
By the time he was a senior he was a team captain.
That wouldn’t fly in today’s climate but I like to think that that kid learned how to be a hard football player that day in some way.
- Are you an athlete now? Tell us a little about your sports career, your achievements and your goals.
I am an ex-athlete but I occasionally participate in Powerlifting. I refuse to call myself either one. Once I finished playing rugby is when the athlete tag was lifted from me. I don’t consider myself a Powerlifter because I compete for myself, not for awards. I don’t want to take away from any other lifter who tries to win. I realize that my injury history will prevent me from being the best at the iron game but I still enjoy the challenge of trying to be stronger despite the aches and pains I deal with.
When I competed in strongman I competed as an amateur in the early 2000’s and I have never finished before 4th in any contest. My last contest was in 2010 where I got 3rd. I ended up hurting my back so bad that day I couldn’t get my own shoes off. A few months later I competed in a push/pull, finishing 2nd in my class and reaggravated my back injury. I couldn’t train my lower body for 6 months after that.
When I attempted a return to strongman a couple years ago for one more ride, I tore a bicep in training and effectively ended that as quickly as it started.
Rugby was my sport. I last played for Long Island Rugby, a D1 team, and we made it to Nationals before losing. I was a starting Tighthead Prop and Lock and enjoyed a lot of team success playing the sport. I wasn’t a guy to score a lot of tries but I tackled hard, rucked well and played a crisp technical game. I was a team player to the core and enjoyed every damn moment of my rugby career even if it beat my body up to the point where my hips, shoulders and back pay the price to this day.
- What is your educational background? Do you think school provided you with good tools for the profession you chose?
I have a 2 year degree that ultimately has done nothing for my training career. Everything I learned was on my own. Seminars, books, talking to others, experimenting, competing, failing, training others and training alongside some amazing strength athletes. In my lifetime I trained alongside people like Gene Rychlak, Glen Russo, Shawna Mendelson, Angry Coach, Nicky Polanco, John Manino (a grip competitor), Eliot Hulse and others. I learned the hard way and didn’t rely on a thing but my sheer will to absorb knowledge.
- At what age did you start coaching at a professional level? How was that beginning (where, who helped you the most, what were your greatest challenges)?
I was a trainer by 1999. I did it full time and part time for years. In the beginning nobody helped me, I was on my own 100%. The greatest challenges were actually getting clients. It isn’t easy to get clients when you are new, it takes a lot of patience and persistence to build a client base.
- If you feel comfortable, I’d like to know your thoughts about the educational background for coaches in your country: are the programs available adequate for your needs? What do you think makes a strong basis for coaching? How did you obtain this?
IMO and this is coming from a guy who taught himself and learned the hard way, the best start anyone can do is having a degree in a health related field. You will learn anatomy and physiology, you will learn basic biomechanics (unless you are an Exercise Science major where you go into it in great detail) and you learn how the body works from a mechanical level before you can tackle the theory of it. That doesn’t mean it is the only way, but it does help your knowledge base a great deal before you take on the task of applying that knowledge to your career.
Having said that, education is what you make of it. You can have a PhD and still have no idea how to apply that to people. You can also have a high school education and have incredible success with your training career. That is individual specific but in general you really want a background of education to help you.
- The golden question: what is your approach to training (your “training philosophy”, meaning the way to organize exercises in a program, progression, principles to observe, whatever you think defines YOUR approach)?
I have a simple philosophy; the basics never go out of style. I organize exercises based upon their needs. For example… a QB won’t back squat, he will front squat to save his shoulders. An athlete will have a balance between strength and conditioning. I incorporate corrective exercises in my programs like Cuban Presses, Split squats (for hip mobility and unilateral work), Rotational strengthening exercises, and assistance work is for higher reps to support the main task.
I believe a strong back and strong posterior chain are critical for any athlete. Not just lifters, but athletes. I don’t ever want to see an athlete of mine with a hamstring injury because we didn’t have balance in his training and I never want to see an athlete of mine go into camp bigger without being the same speed or faster. If that happens, I have failed.
That is tricky when dealing with skill position players in sports as they have to maintain a level of performance to succeed and if you get them too big at the expense of their speed or skill, you take away from what is making them succeed. This is where good coaches come into play and bad coaches get weeded out.
I utilize the RPE system greatly and my athletes don’t go “heavy” until it is time to do so. In training we work on building the body, building strength and creating a prepared athlete and testing day is when we test what we built.
- If you had to consider the “Ashman training system” your legacy at this moment, what would you say you did different, or preserve what needed preserving, or brought back something forgotten? What is ATS’s legacy today?
ASS’s legacy is in the managed volume of the program. You train every body part twice a week in such as way that progress is steady. I cannot quote the actual study or speech but at a recent NSCA conference it was stated that training a bodypart twice a week instead of once (using controlled volume) was greater for strength and hypertrophy gains. Like I said, I cannot verify the study, so maybe someone else can who is reading this, but considering how many people have gotten bigger and stronger using my ebook I consider this something of a no brainer.
We often have programs that have a specific day for a specific lift, and that is perfectly fine. What I have done is split up the week in such a way that you train everything more frequently but with managed intensity and volume.
When it is time for my athletes to peak, those that hire me personally, we take time away from that approach and focus on the task. I believe 100% in generalization and specialization. In the offseason it is wise to take a more general approach to building strength, size and conditioning to make your body more aerobically fit and more durable. As you approach your season you ease away from the generalities and focus more on specifics in such as way that will take what you built and hone it into something that will excel in your chosen sport.
It has worked very well for me and it is very basic in application.
Basic doesn’t mean easy, it just means it is something a lot of coaches have gotten away from because they allow too much information to confuse them rather than take a step back and think about what will actually work.
- The gap between science and practice: in your experience, how much does current scientific knowledge on exercise physiology, kinesiology, biomechanics, etc contribute to your daily decisions in coaching and how much does it fail to?
My daily decisions on coaching are made without much regard to looking at a textbook. I know what works and what doesn’t work. I have spent enough time in this business, and with athletes, to understand that.
That doesn’t mean I ignore science at all, I routinely have read works by Bompa, Issurin and others in an effort to understand more. Francis is one I have studied in depth for some time as I consider him a genius of a coach (RIP). Biomechanics is a key area to be knowledgeable in as we do need to know how the body works in order to understand how to make it better but when it comes to application, you have to seamlessly think on your feet and use your experience to be the judge rather than rely on a book.
You CAN overthink training, so a fine line between science and gym knowledge is very important. You can be the smartest man in the gym and have no idea what the hell to do with a client
- What were your biggest challenges as a coach? Can you give us some examples (stories)? What do you think contributed for you to make the best call?
The biggest challenge I face (outside of continuing to get new clients outside of word of mouth) is ensuring they stay healthy. There is a fine line between continual progress and pushing them past a point where they could get hurt. You want your clients to improve but you have to do it in a way where they maintain a base level of mobility and balance to go along with said improvements. This comes into play with athletes over genpop in a huge way because when I am dealing with a power sport like rugby I have to ensure they maintain speed, flexibility, back and shoulder health to go along with increases in strength and size.
- Some professionals in the health care fields become so traumatized when making a bad call with a patient/client that they give up. Did you ever make a bad call? How did you handle that? What advice would you give to younger people starting their coaching career?
Yes I have. I had a client who tore her meniscus during warm-ups. She did a simple jump and landed wrong, she immediately fell to the floor panicking. I did my best to console her and although I knew it wasn’t my fault, I felt like it really was. She went under the knife a few weeks later and recovered. Shit can happen to anyone, you cannot predict accidents or slip ups in form 100% of the time, but if you are programming unsafe exercises for your client, you need to check yourself before you wreck them.
Training prepares you for the sport, it isn’t a test.
- How do you handle special groups, such as the elderly, pregnant women and the disabled? How is the communication with their primary health care professionals? Is it necessary and is it easy? What advice would you have for younger coaches when they are contacted by their first “special” client?
I haven’t trained the elderly in a long time nor have I worked with special pops in ages. I can only speak on the most recent one I worked with 6 years ago. She had a bad back injury and her doc said if she had to go under the knife again, she would need her disks fused. I approached it from the perspective of strengthening up her lower back using very light block deadlifts, band good mornings, etc. We did air squats to a box and maintained proper form. We worked her ab strength to allow her to be more stable in that region. She improved greatly over time and she was able to do household tasks for longer.
If you get a special needs client, it is imperative you contact their PT or OT to get an idea what you are working with. Keep in touch with them during all of this and be transparent in what you are doing to help them. That communication is vital with not only helping the PT/OT with their job but can also help your business with referrals from the Doctor.
- What is your clientele today? (types of people and their needs) Do you have a preference for one or another type?
I train Powerlifters, bodybuilders and athletes. I prefer athletes over them all since the vast majority of my personal experience has been in athletics. I like the challenge and the variables of training an athlete.
- Athletes: in which way are they different (or not) from other clients?
Simple (to me it is). You want them to be stronger without sacrificing speed or mobility. You need them to be aerobically conditioned without sacrificing speed. Any coach who thinks aerobic conditioning isn’t important for a power athlete is stupid. Plain and simple.
You need to know what they need to succeed for their sport and tailor the training according to the areas that need improvement. If you have a throwing athlete, you have to be aware of shoulder rotational health and mobility issues so they can go into the next season with strength increases, size increases, speed increases and also have the shoulder health to go along with it.
You have to account for injury history. If they have a bad knee how do you work with that? If they had recent shoulder issues, how will you improve those issues? If they are a throwing athlete do you think it is wise to lay them on a flat bench and ask them to bench 3x a week? Shit like that needs to cross your mind in order to train athletes effectively.
- Emotional / psychological aspects of coaching: if you had to instruct a group of young coaches, what would you say is the best professional attitude a coach must have concerning the emotional burden clients bring into the coach-client relationship? Besides a general approach, do you think some types of clients demand extra emotional work? Examples: anorexic young females, low self-esteem people in general, depressed or other psychiatric condition patients, over-stressed business people, etc. How do you approach them?
Psychology is a huge part of this job. I preach this time and time again. Some people need a hard hand yelling at them, some people need a gentle approach and you, as a coach, need to learn quickly which of your clients need what type of coaching. This is hard to teach and requires people skills and young coaches sometimes fail at this before they develop the social awareness to determine which style works with what person. If you are dealing with people who have high stress, you need to be prepared and know what to say to them and when in order to maximize their progress. Sometimes you need to shut up and let them vent for a few minutes so they can continue their workout.
The psychology of training is as important as the physical side of it. If you cannot communicate your ideals and plan to your client, you will fail them and they will fail as a client.
I have given clients to other people when I felt I could not get through to them, that is going to happen and it doesn’t mean you failed. That means you have succeeded in the number one rule of this business; “assist the client towards their goals”.
- Non-presencial coaching (online programming and/or coaching): what are the challenges? What to you require from clients to conduct a successful program?
The challenges are greater than in person training because you are not there to coach form, adjust on the fly and talk to them. You have to trust them to do the work you give them and know enough about programming in order to set up workouts that work for them over a long period of time. If you have 12 weeks peaking clients I don’t want to hear shit from you about how hard this is. When you have clients who are with you for 6 months or longer on a consistent basis, then this is where your skills as a workout programmer come in handy a hell of a lot better than some guy who cookie cutters a peaking program to make money.
I require some very basic things:
- Communication first and always
- Form videos
- Workout updates
- Meal updates so I know they are following the plan
- Weighing in at the designated time
- Accountability to me
- Honesty when reporting workouts and if they are feeling run down
- Don’t add shit to the plan! The plan is the plan
- Have fun
My job isn’t to chase them for this, they need to know these basic things in order to be successful as an online client for myself, and for anyone.
- Now the fun part: do you have sharable amusing stories to tell about your life as a coach? What is the funniest thing that happened?
One time there was a baseball player I was training who was a shy ass kid. He wanted to be better but he didn’t seem to have the killer instinct to do it. We worked together for 4 months in an off-season hard but I felt like he was sandbagging a lot of the times even with my prodding him the best way I could.
The last week I had him, we were testing his front squat to see how he improved. He approached the bar and blew away his prior best by 100 pounds. I wish I was lying but when you take a kid who didn’t lift all that much and put him on a plan, they will increase strength dramatically and fast (this is a huge reason why I ALWAYS say those who train novices can’t use the novice effect as an example of why they are good trainers).
What makes this funny was the exchange of words from this shy ass kid…
He looked at me and said, “Are you going to tell me I am lazy now?”
Seemingly overnight he developed a little bit of an attitude.
He made the team and ended up starting at 3rd base for a school on Long Island. Went to watch him play a bunch of times and he looked like he belonged on the field.
The strength training worked and I pretty much failed at thinking his happy-go-lucky attitude was indicative of his desire to improve. Not only did he show me at the end, he fucking SAID it.
I love that…
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twitter and instagram: @ashmanstrength
Jay now is with Team Power Rack Strength at http://www.powerrackstrength.com/