Freelap Friday Five with Michael Boyle
Michael Boyle is one of the foremost experts in the fields of strength and conditioning, functional training, and general fitness. He currently spends his time lecturing, teaching, training, and writing. In 1996, Michael co-founded Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning, one of the first for-profit strength and conditioning companies in the world. Before that, he served as the head strength and conditioning coach at Boston University for 15 years, and the strength and conditioning coach for Men’s Ice Hockey there for 25 years. Michael was also the S&C coach for the Boston Red Sox in 2013, when they won the World Series.
From 1991-1999, Michael served as the strength and conditioning coach for the NHL’s Boston Bruins. He was also the S&C coach for the U.S. Women’s Olympic Ice Hockey Team, who were gold medalists in Nagano in 1998 and 2014 silver medalists in Sochi, and he served as a consultant in the development of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Freelap USA: What’s your take on corrective exercise, and how has it changed over the years? What’s the balance between addressing an athlete’s weaknesses and training their strengths?
Michael Boyle: I’m not sure I like the term “corrective exercise.” I think we always need to work on weaknesses; however, we see weakness as pretty generic. Most athletes are weak posteriorly. The posterior chain is a weakness and upper back strength is a weakness. I also think most athletes don’t do enough proper core training, so we do a lot there. I think the key is simple: You need a properly designed program. If this means that these exercises are corrective, then I am a strong believer in corrective exercises.
We also want to balance knee- and hip-dominant work. Most coaches are very squat-oriented and really neglect the posterior chain. In the same way, most coaches are also very push- or press-oriented. We again try to balance our pushing and pulling.
In our world, we like balance. I want an athlete who can bench press, hang clean, and split squat (two DB rear-foot-elevated) with the same weight. If you can bench press 300, you had better be able to hang clean it and split squat with 120s in each hand. In addition, if you bench 300, you had better be able to do five reps in the chin-up with about 250 pounds (bodyweight plus external load on a dip belt).
Your core program should have anti-extension, anti-lateral flexion, and anti-rotation exercises. We have comprehensive programs, not individual corrective stuff. As for other “corrective” stuff: I probably see things like bridges, etc. as specific warm-ups. Maybe not corrective in nature, but rather, turning on the right muscles pre-workout.
Freelap USA: “Functional training” is probably one of the most criticized terms in the strength and conditioning/sports performance industry, largely by those drawing up straw man arguments and talking about balancing on BOSU balls. What is your definition, or the real definition, of functional training for athletes?
Michael Boyle: I explored this in detail in my “New Functional Training for Sports,” so if you want a really thorough answer, read it. The bottom line is that functional training is purposeful training. Function is purpose. In other words, any training with a purpose is functional. The problem is that we have a perception of what functional means and to many coaches, functional means light weights. The problem is perception. Many people criticized my book based on the title, but never read it. The book contains squatting exercises, plyometrics, and Olympic lifts. All of these are functional.The bottom line is that functional training is purposeful training. Function is purpose. Click To Tweet
Functional training is, in the simplest sense, a training system that applies what we now know about functional anatomy to training. In this day and age, we know how the body works, but as coaches, we just choose to ignore it and instead do what we have done for decades. Worse yet, we often do what we have always done and then criticize any original thought or attempt at progress. I think as strength coaches we are stuck in the “Why can’t we just do what we have always done?” mode.
I prefer to look at it as “What if the way we always did it was wrong?” I know that what I learned about anatomy, and subsequently what I learned about muscle function, in 1979 was either not true or partially true. I can take that information and use it to my and my athlete’s advantage, or I can continue to use the same program we used 10 or 20 years ago.
Freelap USA: What is a current trend in the strength and conditioning industry you think will be short-lived? Where should we be looking instead?
Michael Boyle: I’m praying it’s CrossFit. I think CrossFit has peaked and the “intensity over all else” phase is over. As to where should we look? I think we are going to see big advances in power training now that we have gotten beyond thinking that concepts like Westside are actually training for athletes. It is amazing that, as coaches, we have simply copied other strength sports for so long with very little thought as to how the body moves.We have copied other strength sports for so long with very little thought as to how the body moves. Click To Tweet
I laugh at the idea of “Let’s take a lift meant to be done slowly and under control and then, try to do it fast.” I don’t think that squats, deadlifts, or bench presses were meant to be done fast. In fact, I’m pretty sure they were meant to be done slowly and under control to prevent injury. I think we are going to see a more thoughtful approach in the future.
Freelap USA: What are the biggest leaps the sports performance industry has made in the last decade, and why?
Michael Boyle: A decade is a long time. I think if you look at the last decade, the biggest leap has been functional training. Slowly but surely, people are coming around. Exercises that were laughed at 10 years ago are now accepted as normal. Things like the rear-foot-elevated split squat and one-leg straight leg deadlift were probably laughed at by “serious” strength coaches a decade ago.
Ten years ago, I was still seeing programs where unilateral training involved doing leg extensions one leg at a time to isolate the quads. Think about this: Dynamic warm-ups, foam rolling, and core work have become widely accepted in the last decade. Ten years ago, most people walked into the weight room and started lifting. Core work was 100 sit-ups or crunches at the end of the workout.
Think about what we now know about breathing, core training, spine mechanics. Ten years ago, coaches were telling athletes that flexion was the key to preventing back pain. Now we know it’s the cause. Ten years ago, most coaches had never seen a foam roller or thought about any type of soft tissue intervention.
I love this quote: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
Freelap USA: What’s your take on training hip extension strength and power in your athletes?
Michael Boyle: I think hip extension strength and hip extension power are very different concepts and need to be trained differently. Power needs a speed of movement component that is not required for strength. Tony Holler changed my thoughts a bit here. For power, it still comes down to doing jumps and sprints. All athletes should be doing plyos and doing timed short sprints.Those that don’t use Olympic lifts are missing the boat. Click To Tweet
Then, there is what I like to call “heavy implement power.” If you truly want to be powerful, you also need to Olympic lift. We never Olympic lift from the floor, but I love hang cleans and hang snatches. I think those that don’t use Olympic lifts are missing the boat. Show me a coach that doesn’t like Olympic lifts and chances are I’ll show you an ex-powerlifter who never bothered to learn the Olympic lifts. Instead of learning the lifts, these guys (and, in some cases, women) instead default to the idea that the Olympic lifts aren’t necessary, or even worse yet, aren’t safe. I can’t stand when people tell you that something that they can’t do and have never tried is bad for you.
(Speaking on high pulls) I’m not a fan of any pull type. I think at least half the benefit of the Olympic lift is the catch. McGill talks about the double pulse idea. I think Olympic lifting is the perfect example of the double pulse. You have to explode and absorb. One reason our athletes don’t get injured a lot is because we Olympic lift and, more importantly, because we catch our lifts.
Lastly, we get to strength. For hip extension strength, we need to extend the hips in the presence of significant loads. Trap bar deadlifts are really the only bilateral lift we still do from a strength perspective. This is our maximum strength lift and, we load these as heavy as perfect technique allows. I’ve become more of a high handle fan as we get higher loads and better spine position. I was more of a purist a few years ago. We combine this with a one-leg straight leg deadlift and really try to push the loads here.
Last, but not least, is heavy sled work, progressing to sled sprints. I see heavy sled work as being akin to Charlie Francis’s posterior chain leg press type action. Francis actually used the reverse leg press on an old Universal Gym for this exercise. Heavy sled work is like a sport-specific or functional leg press. When you push a heavy sled, you are working the vectors of the acceleration phase of sprinting.