Freelap Friday Five with Jerome Simian
Jerome Simian has coached athletes who medaled internationally in seven different disciplines. In track and field, he has coached Kevin Mayer to a world record in the decathlon, as well as others who won medals at the Olympics and World Championship in the throws and Paralympics sprints and jumps. In his now 20-year career, athletes Jerome has coached have participated in eight Olympics and have made countless national team selections. He has also trained successful athletes for sports as diverse as pro rugby, figure skating, skeleton, tennis, judo, golf, basketball, soccer, and bobsled, to name a few. He founded Synaptic Athletics and works out of Lyon, France.
Freelap USA: When you do assessments, how do you evaluate them? Where do you think coaches make mistakes in this area?
Jerome Simian: The purpose of assessment is to search for an opportunity for improvement. Instead of saying an athlete needs to be strong to accelerate, for example, I look into limits for that particular athlete when it comes to acceleration capabilities. The same will be true for any other aspect that needs to be improved. So, I kind of build a dashboard with different measures and try to evaluate a couple that will unlock the potential in the shortest term possible.
As far as testing, there is nothing new really. The art is to weigh the importance of the quality tested as to its potential for improvement of performance as a whole. Tests range from neurologic evaluations, muscle testing, and postural analysis to Bosco-type tests, bounding tests, split times analysis, and a lot of looking at videos of people in their event to just watch them move. An eye is important!I am more interested in the relationships between tests and how they vary in respect to one another. Click To Tweet
There is nothing revolutionary. It may be just that I see those test results in a different light and try to pick a few that are applicable to the athlete’s context. Often, the mistake is to make inferences on hard numbers. I used to do that and the problem is that motivation and fatigue interfere with hard numbers. Today, I am more interested in the relationship between those tests and how they vary in respect to one another. That gives me more of an idea as to where to “steer the boat,” so to speak.
Freelap USA: Structural balance is a wide topic. Could you go into how you take athletes from assessment into training so they function well and are durable later? Most coaches look front and back, side to side, upper and lower. You take it further and really help athletes become efficient.
Jerome Simian: Right from the start of my career, Charles Poliquin introduced me to the concept of muscle imbalance when it wasn’t sexy yet; that you should seek muscle imbalances and strengthen the weak link. Some years later, I got the notion from Jay Schroeder that it is more about coordination around the joint—as in the ability to contract, but also relax—that mattered. The concept of net force, in essence. Although the first one I heard talking about that was Charlie Francis on the old Forum back in early 2000s.
Looking front to back is a good start. It is a bit more complex than that sometimes, as interaction between far distant body structures needs to be considered. So, you need to know how the body works as a whole. I do not use the FMS because I wrote my school essays on papyrus and I had developed my own screening before it came to my knowledge, but I think all these attempts to investigate movement integrity go in the right direction.I make the normalization of movement the principle goal of training, whatever it may be. Click To Tweet
The way I may take it further is that I see it as a way to improve performance, not just a side thing that you do during warm-up. I think that is where coaches go wrong. They take it as ancillary and want to spend the energy on what they think will bring the horsepower. I make the normalization of movement the principle goal of training, whatever it may be. I don’t care if it means biceps curls. If you do a good job at identifying and aggressively pursuing the normalization of imbalances, you will be rewarded with better performance and some surprising benefits too.
For example, Kevin Mayer can irritate his training mates by showing up at 9:30 a.m., kicking his sandals to the side, putting on the spikes, and without any warm-up whatsoever, run over the 42-inch hurdle just like that. Was he able to do that a few years back? No. It’s just that his work is balanced enough that he doesn’t have to do anything special to be able to do this. His competitors often comment on the fact that he does not really warm up during the decathlon. Not only is it probably an advantage over the course of two days and 10 events, but it is just the mark of an efficient structure. Note that body balance is a dynamic state and that it is not something that is set in stone once and for all. Many things can knock this equilibrium off.
Freelap USA: Barbell squatting is a lost art and many coaches give up on it too quickly. Besides the obvious benefits to improving strength, can you get into the reasons it helps athletes stay healthy?
Jerome Simian: Acquiring the ability to do a strict full squat will help improve the hip, pelvis, and spine relationship. It means the relation between the stiffness and the strength of the different tissue around those joints is balanced. Now, it is very important that position be optimal AND that the lift be executed with a very strict technique. There is nothing to gain for an athlete, other than a powerlifter or maybe weightlifter, in sacrificing perfect form for more weight on the bar.
Once that is said, I like the full squat a majority of the time because it forces a proximal to distal activation from the bottom and involves the muscles of the hip. I see a lot of athletes whose triple extension’s sequence is altered by the use of partial squats. The knee extends slightly ahead of the hip. In that case, we often see problems in jumping and sprint starts. Unless you do a powerlifting low-bar-push-your-butt-back squat, the ankle angle, then the knee angle, and lastly the angle of the hip change in that order in the descent.Acquiring the perfect squat form has health benefits, and practicing the full squat reinforces them. Click To Tweet
If you reverse the movement, the tendency is for the joints that have flexed the most to want to extend the most, and in that case the knees will extend more than the hip. This is compounded by the fact that it allows for more load on the bar, which most trainees will balance on their upper trap by a slight forward lean out of fear it may fall back. That is usually achieved by a slight anterior pelvic tilt/hip flexion. The result is an extended knee/flexed hip. This means altered extension mechanics, if you do it often enough with a great enough load. In a nutshell, it is mostly the acquisition of perfect squat form that has health benefits, and the practice of the full squat reinforces them.
Freelap USA: Getting athletes to buy into other areas outside of training is difficult. Can you explain how you educate and connect with athletes so they do the hidden training like sleep and nutrition?
Jerome Simian: For nutrition, regular measurements are essential. Because food and body image are so linked with emotions, athletes are not objective. Seeing the change helps them and encourages them to keep up beneficial behavior. Also, if you calculate running power, you can easily tell them how fast they could run right now if they lost the blubber.
For lifestyle, I like to cross skinfolds and HRV monitoring. Numbers don’t lie. Most motivated athletes who see the benefits of behavioral change in the numbers usually change for the best. Don’t underestimate the power of peer pressure also. The guys in the group that have gotten in shape will be the first to push the other ones to do what’s necessary. It helps to create a culture around that.
So as far as educating them, I like to get them in a process where they see the positive and negative consequences of their behaviors. I try to foster a sense of calm responsibility with an issue that is often treated with blame. It is a bit of a delicate area sometimes, especially with female athletes in sports like figure skating, for example, where eating disorders are rampant. You can create somewhat of a culture.
For instance, a lot of female athletes have tremendous difficulties performing during the first day of their period. It is very common, but not a normal state of things. I have an athlete whose biggest fear was to have to compete on one of those days, and every time she had to, she felt bad and underperformed. After changing her nutrition and some lifestyle factors, she actually medaled in the Olympics and World Championship both on the first day of her period.The more success athletes have, the easier it is to get them to stick to a program—they see it work. Click To Tweet
And that is an example I can give to a female athlete to get her to change her behavior. I can also use Kevin’s body composition change and speed gains as an example. You have to give them something they can relate to in order to get them started and make sure they see the progress. The more success they see, the easier it gets to stick to a program because it gets into the realm of possible—they see it happen. It becomes part of the culture.
Freelap USA: Charles Poliquin is obviously an influence. Can you share how he has guided you on your training philosophy? Besides the above areas, where else has he helped you?
Jerome Simian: I really started my training career with classes taken with Charles. Twenty-two years ago, he was about chasing the weak link—structural balance—when it was not on anybody’s radar. Back then it was squat, power clean, and bench, and that was it for most. He promoted good form and lifting weight for the sake of sports performance improvement. One of the things he said then was that bodybuilding was about the endocrine system, but sports were about the nervous system. That really stuck with me.Charles Poliquin’s focus on chasing the weak link—structural balance—influenced me from early on. Click To Tweet
I credit Charles for starting me with the right mindset, which gave me the general direction that I still have today. He’s the one who mentioned Jay Schroeder to me way back in 2004, and Jay is another one of my major influences. Charles also had developed a great knowledge of the use of supplementation. Although my use of supplementation is quite restricted for cultural and financial reasons over here, I learned everything I could from him so that I could be precise and frugal at the same time.
In his later years, and with the use of internet messaging, he was available and very generous when asked for advice. The last time I asked him a question that he provided advice for was just a few days before he died. On a personal note, it meant something when Charles said that you did a good job and recognized that you were getting results, because his standards were high. Although I know better than to seek validation from others, it was still motivating.