Report from Adrian Cradock, My Irish Intern
COACH DAN JOHN
BY – Adrian Cradock
My time with Coach John
It all started many years ago when I sent Coach John an email in relation to squat technique and not alone was I surprised by the immediate response but also the immediate effect of the advice in helping my back squat and overhead squat technique. I have since over the years followed and read pretty much anything of Coach Johns I could get hold of including his 90 page ebook which is still one of the best books out there full of concrete and applicable information. Last Christmas I was lucky enough to be one of the few to attend a 2 day seminar which he gave in Ireland. During this time I got to know Coach more and mentioned I was interested in coming out to the US and the rest is history. Without a second thought he offered me this fantastic opportunity not knowing at the time he would be moving house also. I arrived in on the 12th of April and from the first day till the last what I learnt would not fit in a book with many great memories.
Below is a short summary covering some of what I learnt.
I thought this was the best warm up I had ever seen or completed as it worked so much on injury prevention addressing areas such as shoulder stability, core, joint mobility of upper and lower body and ran effortlessly into the main workout. An observer may not even know the difference. It consisted of many different kettlebell exercises and bodyweight exercises along with specific hip flexor stretches some warm ups involved were done with pvc and others involved several exercises done with weight plates and for a set time
I learnt how to tumble correctly by participating with the students and finding out that you don’t roll on your head also getting an insight into kids enjoyment and work ethic when put into a competitive situation where they compete with each other this was a real eye opener when I began to see the intensity they participated with when competing with each other and also how fun a tumbling class could be and that it is limited by the imagination of the coach and can be incorporated as part of any workout.
Having being involved in track during my time with Coach John predominantly shot put I often glanced over at Coach Scott in admiration of his hurdlers Coach John noticed this and recommended I try a workout and with coach Scott’s patience over a couple of sessions I learnt how to jump over the hurdles. This was a great learning experience as I could see and feel instant improvement in myself by going from a watcher to doer and it made me all the more happy when Coach John mentioned his top footballers compete in hurdles in the offseason. I learnt about warm up & mobility drills, how by driving with the front knee at the hurdle leg will follow through and finally now I understand why it is so important to stay relaxed when sprinting and hurdling especially in the upper body. I also saw the courage and strength of some of athletes when an athlete fell and got cut she continued her practice like nothing happened I also saw this character at another meet where an athlete collapsed/fell coming up to the line and still got up and finished the race.
Shot put & discus
This is where I spent a large amount of time observing all levels of ability and the one thing that stuck out was the top performers were working hardest throwing every day and had the greatest attention to detail and even at this high school level had body awareness and when they were not throwing well would usually know why or another athlete would help them they also worked for each other and supported each other at all meets. They did not get frustrated after a bad throw as the confidence was there to throw well with the solid base in place especially during training. During this time we also experimented with medicine ball rolls in between throws which seemed to definitely improve the throw distance in some athletes especially when used on the upper back to increase thoracic mobility. While at the state meet I witnessed how some athletes excel while others were not able to perform under pressure. It was interesting to observe how so many variables can affect the discus such as weather and from my own point of view how the discus should be released and how to hold both a shot and disc for optimal throwing distance.
It was also interesting to see how much better the students got to interact and work for each other when brought to a meet in a small group bringing only those that really wanted to compete and how a small thing such as bringing them out together for some food after helped in bringing them closer as a team.
While I had been familiar with kettlebells, after spending time with Coach my view to their benefit has been transformed they are totally different from dumbbells and swings are one of the best exercises you can do during my time thanks to the coaches I learnt to get up windmill swing and goblet squat and snatch and arm bar with correct form. I found the way Coach corrected my snatch technique really beneficial with instant improvement by fixing the most important thing and ignoring all the small faults waiter walks instantly improved my military press without even touching it and greatly increased my stability for snatching and overhead squat. I had always found my back to be sore with swings until I learnt I was squat swinging instead of hinging with minimal knee bend I was squatting with too much knee bend and was putting too much load on my lower back as the kettlebell was too far out from my body. Thanks to Coach I now do a 5 minute minimal V02 max every day and I am feeling the benefits already with the calluses to prove it J. I learnt many things in relation to kettlebells such as the importance of picking up kettlebells in a v silverback position where shoulders r internally rotated pre-stretches the external rotators before they contract which does wonders for shoulder health. Other things such as how the goblet squat with curl recruits abdominals and opens up hips more. It was interesting that the swing can be improved and corrected by using the plank as it gives a person the feeling of being locked down with abdominals braced and lats contracted with feet gripping the floor which seems to make a huge difference in any kettlebell exercise I tried this is contrary to what I believed in always driving through the heels with toes lifted and definitely felt different and easier but more effective. A side point here in relation to the plank shaking while performing the plank gives very few insights as often well conditioned athletes shake and have mastered the art of tension. Sometimes shaking can be caused by weak upper body and pulling strength or armpit fatigue.
The look on Coaches face when he saw me kettlebell snatching I can still see to say the least I don’t think he was impressed but within 20 minutes thanks to his help I according to him was much improved thanks to his coaching of course it was interesting here how he let me perform several reps incorrectly to see if anything was changing from rep to rep then although there were loads of faults he took the most important one which when addressed corrected the others. We also did a nice variation where I walked two steps then snatched and did this repeatedly with a light weight and I also did a drill where I was positioned in close to the wall this automatically taught me to snatch correctly and keep the kettlebell close to my body with correct swing movement and this along with holding both a light and heavy kettlebell in each hand but only snatching the heavier one which also provided instant improvement and allowed me to snatch almost correctly instantly.
Since spending time with Coach John I definitely feel kettlebells should be a part of any conditioning programme and provide tremendous variety and are very time efficient also.
I learned how the Hip flexor stretch when one keeps the big toe pushed into ground and presses with slight rotation gives much better stretch. Vents for wrist and forearms are very important underrated and should ideally be done nearly every day. Hurdle mobility work and goblet squats greatly increase the flexibility of the hip joint allowing athletes to get into better positions when on the field and in the gym. I noticed a vast improvement in my flexibility over the weeks with Coach John as I did the warm up nearly every day which made a huge difference and confirms the point if it is important do it every day. I learnt how to perform a windmill correctly and found out that it was a hinge and not a squat and how the importance of keeping the back knee locked out and front knee soft with arm locked out over head which seemed to provide a tremendous stretch through the thoracic and oblique’s made the exercise more effective.
A point I noticed in school was the level of positivity coming from students and teachers I also liked the idea of starting day off with a prayer on the intercom with a particular thought for each day I think this was helped also by the Coach having some humour with the kids and able to relate with them. When I first observed a class where the class started with a prayer I was not sure what to think then over time and as Coach John explained some of reasons they say a prayer and I really thought then it was a great idea. He reffered to it as checking in with the students which I thought was an excellent idea as obviously if you have an idea how a student or athlete is feeling then you can show more compassion and understanding to them during class and plus it is nice to thank god and ask him to look after those who are sick and in need of help.
Having been familiar with a lot of Coach Johns work and writings it was amazing to see it in action and the simplicity of the workouts with so much accomplished within a session from strength power increased mobility cardiovascular and emphasis and importance of discipline for each other and respect for the weights room. It was great see sessions such as clean front squat and press starting with bar and adding weight each set this I would have experimented but it is a different story when you see 20 or 30 kids performing this workout. It seems nearly too simple and yet it is so effective.
I also witnessed kojis being performed by a large group. Koji are excellent as you become very unstable which is closer to a position you will get into on the field and requires a tremendous level of core stability especially as you begin to add weight as with kojis you are also trying to prevent rotation. I also witnessed Coach implementing what was known as a tailpipe workout as part of session which develops mental and fore arm strength as you are constantly under load for a set time with sumo squats incorporated and I will look forward to trying variations of this with barbells also in the future.
One of my favourite was Coach Johns famous eagles which I think should be kept a secret against competitors they are so good. They consist of performing 8 sets of 8 with kettlebell which sounds manageable but on top of this do a farmers walk and then repeat without dropping the weight until you have 8 sets of each done. Again you are working your whole body in a short space of time improving mental as well as physical strength by frying the whole body as a unit and the great thing is the body actually recovers quickly as the load isn’t that big but because you are under tension and load all the time during the exercise it makes it extremely difficult.
We also used Complexes combining up to 5 exercises in a sequence with a set number of reps performed which are excellent for conditioning and getting strong as again you are under load all the time without dropping the bar and energy demands can somewhat resemble game situations. As I was lucky enough see to be at Coach Johns seminar in Ireland I had been familiar with the big 55 where you start off with 10 and work down to a single this can also be done from 5 down to 1.workout but it was great to see the workout performed by a large group and the ease with which the kids went through the workout.
5 3 1 was also used quite a bit which I thought was very effective as again you recover quickly and you are getting some heavily loading in without actually going for a max and it allows new prs to be hit regularly. We also used clusters and ladders a lot which were also very effective and allowed a lot of volume to be completed with relatively quick recovery time.
Below is a short summary of what I learned from Coach John
Sometimes the coach doesn’t have the answer and the athlete just has to make it through the practice
Do things without being asked and don’t look for praise
Always give minimal teaching points when coaching and understand technique might always not be perfect
Quotes are overrated just go out and perform
Alternate push up position plank can indicate nervous system fatigue in athletes and provide a quick assessment tool
Practice what you preach and be a role model for those that you coach
Never take anything for granted
It is important to critically analyse yourself to help you and your athletes improve
Never show favouritism to the best athlete but use them as examples for athletes or kids with lesser ability
Make as many mistakes as you need to in training learn from them and have confidence in your ability on the day of competition
Understand squats are individual and not everyone can go to the same depth
Attention to the smallest of details and always emphasise good technique
Practice under conditions you will compete in
Be very careful of volume of strength sessions in season ensure there is adequate recovery
Team spirit is very important whether in football or track
Always try to arrive early and leave late for work/practice
With student/kids it is good to check in see how they are feeling show you can be sensitive and care about them eg prayer at the start of class
With any exercise weigh up the risk to reward ratio
With coaching pick the most important point don’t try to change everything and get the athlete confused, by correcting the most important point other faults usually correct themselves
Listen to all coaches even the worst ones you will learn from them all – often not to do something
Plan out your day by writing down jobs to be done and you will accomplish much more
Prayer and faith are important
Learn how to fall
Focus on your own performance not those around you or the outcome and try not to wish your opponents success beforehand
Most athletes/kids love to compete and will usually work harder under in these situations
Start the day positively
Quality praise is important for kids or athletes
Gold star athletes deliver when the pressure is on and never panic when they go behind in a race or meet
As a coach you need to be multidisciplined in your skills while an athlete must have a more singular focus
Less is more – quality over quantity
Put things over your head as much as possible
Treat everyone the same
Understand when an athlete is successful many factors combine to achieve this and not just necessarily because the athlete has a good weights programme
Be humble when success is achieved with one of your athletes and while you may take some credit it is the athlete who deserves the plaudits
Always try to be positive around others and enthusiastic about work
In field sports hurdling drills and tumbling are very important
Keep sessions short and intense trying to replicate game scenarios and practice under fatigue – complexes
Fix with repetitions walk through it slowly make drills more complex than event e.g. throw both sides left and right
What you give you receive
Be willing and believe you can do anything you set your mind to
Only give the most important teaching point the rest will usually correct themselves after correcting this one
To excel at something it must be done every day
Spend time working with weaker athletes and try to give responsibility to kids to develop leadership skills
The way you organise your day will reflect the type of day you will have
How one acts in the weight room reflects how they will play, discipline must start here with players always working for each other
Never underestimate the importance of grip when lifting weights
Complexes are excellent for metabolic conditioning along with kettlebell vo2 max
Lift as much as possible outside
Go barefoot as much as possible
In Track and field interaction is very important as it is an individual sport
Hill running one of the most underrated conditioning exercises
Keep away from isolation exercises unless injured
It is important to assess your athlete’s everyday and it does not have to be through scientific methods the Turkish Get Up can give invaluable info in how an athlete is feeling from day to day.
Do goblet squats and hip mobility every day
You do not need to separate the warm up from main workout
Volume must be varied and monitored within the week
Shrink the gap 7 exercises reach a certain standard
When working with kids it is important you keep them working all the time to keep them engaged
Kettlebells differ from dumbbells or front squats as there is much more abdominal recruitment
Gripping floor when lifting kettlebells makes lift much easier
Don’t hold onto things you don’t need throw out the thrash in your life and you will have much better clarity of things and focus for whatever your goal.
Never wine/complain don’t make excuses afterwards when it is too late
Always do the best you can in everything you do
Always be there for an encouraging word or two especially when things aren’t going well for an athlete
Learn by doing not watching reading or listening eg tumbling/hurdling
Be always grateful for what you have and remember the less privileged
It is a myth you can only deadlift once a week or once every two weeks
Swings don’t hurt your back poor form hurts your back
It is important to continually work on your weaknesses in every area of your life
Not every throw or lift will be a good one in a workout so be patient and don’t get frustrated
For a long time speed will reward the crappy lifter where he/she yanks it off the floor and misses a proper second pull but to go to a higher level bar must be controlled off the floor with increasing acceleration through the lift
Consider conversation in the gym the equivalent to an energy leak
Med ball throws with a 2-3kg med ball may be the most underrated tool to develop rotational power
Don’t be a slave to numbers in the weight room we need to be strong across the board
Don’t let your athletes be the ones that are referred to as look like tarzan play like Jane
To instil work ethic and a culture is very important in terms of development into the future for kids/athletes
All training is complimentary get really strong avoid doing weird exercises that mimic your training motion as often they can be counterproductive and change the mechanics
When one gets good news it is important to celebrate
Leave your ego at the door
Treat the lightest poundage with maximum respect
Commit to terminating your sets a rep or two short of failure and tackle your weights with swiss watch precision
If it doesn’t work throw it out
You must have 100% belief and confidence in your program
It is important to reward athletes achievements both in the weight room and on the pitch and try to make all feel like they are making a valuable contribution.
All in all it was a fantastic experience with memories to cherish forever from all the laughs I had with the Johns which includes my new friend gobshite to all the knowledge I gained from spending time with Coach John and also the other humble top level coaches I met aside from Coach John.