Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Where Are All The British Coaches? (Why are all the strength & conditioning coaches American?)

Just a bit of fun, I don't want any irate nationalists or geographers emailing me

What do the following all have in common: Eric Cressey, Mike Boyle, Tony Gentilcore, Chad Waterbury, Glenn Pendlay, John Broz, Dean Somerset, Mike Roberston, Ross Enamait, Joe De Franco, Jim Wendler, Dave Tate, Paul Chek, Vern Gambetta, Nick Tuminello, Jason Feruggia, Dan John, Mike Mahler, Mark Rippetoe and Bret Contreras?

Yes, they are all American, if you are in strength & conditioning in anyway you probably know who all these people are; most probably from the internet.

Want some famous ones who aren't American? How about Charles Poliquin & Christian Thibaudeau from Canada.

How about some Russians - Verkhoshansky, Pavel Tsatsouline.

How about some physiotherapists/ physical therapists: Charlie Weingroff, Gray Cook, Bill Hartman, Shirley Sahrmann - all American.

How about some sports scientists. South Africa got Mel Siff and Tim Noakes.

Quick, name a famous British coach or sports scientists... come on... (crickets chirping)? That's right, South Africa got Mel Siff and Tim Noakes and we got fuckin' Matt Roberts. On the flip side, the USA has Traci Anderson, so they have their own cross to bear.

(In fact, I can think of one, Alwyn Cosgrove, who is Scottish but lives in California).

In the world of bodyworkers and manual therapists we fair slightly better as does Europe. The Europeans gave us Janda, Pavel Kolar, Ida Rolf, Feldenkrais (ok, he was from Israel, but they're in the Eurovision song contest so it counts), and we can muster Leon Chaitow as the British entry. The Americans have Thomas Myers, who came up with Anatomy Trains.

Nutrition wise the USA got Lyle McDonald, Alan Aragon and John Berardi, oh and we got... Pete Cohen. Hmm.

The under representation of European strength coaches can be put down to a language barrier, but Britain doesn't have that excuse and nor does Australia, the only antipodean coach I can think of is Ian King; so they're doing as well as we are.

Internet Marketeers

There is a good chance you have heard of most the above coaches cos they are on interwebz innit. And most of them got there first exposure via T-Nation. Of course, some of them did it without t-nation, Paul Chek for example. Charles Poliquin was well known before he appeared on t-nation, and Ross Enamait is well known for being freakin' awesome. The other exception is Charlie Weingroff who holds a unique position of being a former NBA strength coach, a powerlifter, physical therapist and FMS genius; who grew a base of support because of his knowledge and experience. There is no British equivalent of t-nation, and there is no British equivalent of Charlie Weingroff either.

Had you heard of Bret Contreras before he appeared on t-nation? No, me neither. He was just some guy training people in his garage who used to have a small personal training facility and had an obsession with glutes. And because he had come up with an exercise that went against much of the perceived wisdom, most of the initial comments about him on the forums portrayed him as some kind of chump just because he didn't coach an elite team or Olympic athletes. Personally, I think Bret Contreras has a great website with loads of info, and I couldn't care less if he never coached a team to the 'state championship' or whatever ( though he is still slightly obsessed with horizontal load vector glute exercises!). However, without the internet I never would have got to access or the great info he put out, and the same goes for Eric Cressey, Dan John and all the rest. Also they know how to promote themselves, but know what they offer is a quality product with lots of top notch info given for free as well.

You can blame American cultural hegemony, but half these guys started out training people in their garage, they're not exactly the Disney corporation.

A while back Mike Boyle took umbrage at a list of influential strength coaches because some were just 'internet coaches' training at their own facility or in a garage and many of the great coaches weren't on the internet, so no one had heard of them. Of course, the internet is full of chump coaches (yes, I''ve used the word chump twice), but then again so is professional sport. For example, premier league football and the leagues below abound with knucklehead strength coaches and archaic ideas about resistance training. But having said that, there must be some good coaches working in Britain with elite athletes, or in their own facility with 'ordinary' members of the public, that no one has heard of.

Maybe it's a British reticence to promote ourselves and market ourselves. (But the world wide web was invented by a British guy, just sayin'). Maybe like Mike Boyle intimated, our best coaches are out there coaching people and don't have time for websites, self promotion and to sell products.

Come to think of it I can't think of one strength & conditioning book, DVD, ebook or e-product that I have purchased that was produced by someone who was British. It's a sad state of affairs.


Whatever you think of them Paul Chek & Charles Poliquin are well known if somewhat 'eccentric'. A few years ago doing the Paul Chek certification was all the rage in the UK, this is before Chek went completely 'up river'. Then in recent years the Poliquin PICP became the certification de jour, and Charles garnered packed audiences at the fit pro conference. I've never done either course, I'm sure they have some quality content. The point is no British coaches had developed their own certification or had the marketing nouse to make it a success. We had the YMCA and Premier and few other small players but no one like Poliquin.

Could it be there is no one?

I can't bring myself to consider the fact that may be we don't have any great coaches. We have a history in strength sports, in bodybuilding we had Dorian Yates, in powerlifting we've got Andy Bolton - the first man to deadlift 1000Ibs, in strong man competitions we have Terry Hollands and in the past we had Geoff Capes and Jamie 'keeping the dream alive' Reeves. Not only that, but the first man to run a sub 4 minute mile and we invented ping pong goddammit!

In the world of Olympic lifting Brian Hamill wrote the seminal paper on weight training and injury in children, and if he was American he'd probably have a facility like California Strength and would have written books like Greg Everett instead of training people in a cupboard in a leisure centre in Woking. As far as I am aware BWLA was almost bankrupt a few years ago, and despite the recent explosion in Olympic weightlifting it doesn't seemed to have capitalised on it the way it should have. Again, maybe it's a British reluctance to ask people for money or have faith in their product, or market ourselves. I know I suffer from it, we feel bad about asking people for money and end up giving it away. (Up till a point, there is an inverse relationship here, the more of a douche bag a personal trainer is, the more money he will ask for).

In the world of athletics we have some world class athletes - Jess Ennis and Mo Farah for example. Though, of course Mo Farahs coach is Alberto Salazar, who is American. Can you name another running coach apart from Alberto Salazar? Me neither. Okay, Brad Hudson, but he's American too. In th world of ultrarunning Scott Jurek and Dean Karnazes are well known, however British world record holder Lizzi Hawker is not.

Ideal opportunity for a Jess Ennis picture!


The other thing about all the American strength coaches is they all reference each other. If you look at Ben Bruno's good fitness reads for the week, it tends to be the same people mentioned every week. And even though its interesting, we can end up with a small pool of information, and a small cabal of people providing most of the content. Even though there is a lot of great content it can end up seeming like a small group of coaches all promoting each others products. (quick you've only got 48 hours before the price goes back up to $197!).

The elephant in the room

There is one other glaring omission from the lists of fitness professionals above. A lack of women. In general there is a lack of women strength & conditioning coaches on the internet, and even fewer with actual products like books and DVDs available, and even fewer published in research journals.

Once again the Americans are leading the field in overcoming this. The Girls Gone Strong group has recently got some good internet coverage, and they are nearly all American - Alli Mckee, Neghar Fonooni, Nia Shanks, Molly Galbraith, Jen Comas Keck et al. The point to mention here is that many of these women already have connections to many of the male strength coaches mentioned above, training at their facilities and more. And again, looking at the internet videos, best views for the week from Ben Bruno mainly features these women, again it can feel a bit like a closed knit love in. You could get the impression that no other women in the world were lifting weights from the video links of most male coaches. (except of course Zuzanna at bodyrock tv!)

There must be a British equivalent of Neghar Fonooni, for the love of all that is right there must be!

Now I know, there are loads of British women who are strong, lifting proper weights, training hard, but they just ain't on the internet or they aren't getting mentioned on the well know fitness blogs and websites.

And finally most of the figure athletes are, of course, American.

Alli McKee has competed in figure, oh, and is not British

There is hope

So we've established that the Brits maybe just aren't as good at internet marketing. And we don't have the internships or college sports scene that the USA has, so opportunities are limited. But...

We could lead the world on professionalism and innovation. As far as I am aware to be a member of the American National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA) you only have to do a multiple choice exam. Whereas to be a member of the United Kingdom Strength & Conditioning Association (UKSCA) you have to actually demonstrate weightlifting technique, plyometrics, do an exam and put a program together for an athlete and justify your choices. I haven't done the accreditation myself yet, but by all accounts unlike nearly every other fitness certification there is actually a failure rate, passing is a not a fore gone conclusion. Setting tough professional standards means we could set a bench mark for quality coaching.

This is a call to arms for all British fitness professionals. If you know what you're doing get out there and shout about it. If you don't, some chump with a Vipr in one hand and Zumba weight in the other will!