Bill Miller is a certified strength and conditioning specialist based out of the Chicagoland area. He’s trained mostly baseball players, from the youth ages all the way to the MLB level. He’s also written three books: Swing Fast, Throw Fast, and, most recently, Testing Is Training. The books cover power development for rotational power and much more!
Freelap USA: Previously, you’ve mentioned that every pro athlete you see on TV is a product of 5–12 years of work. What’s the key to longevity in a coach-athlete training relationship in the private sector, where training isn’t mandatory, and what makes the athlete want to come back so they can achieve the results they want?
Bill Miller: Easily, the number one biggest key is having fun on a daily basis. “Fun“ might mean slightly different things to different athletes, however. For example, a very serious professional player will find training to be fun when they are consistently competing or trying to beat their numbers, etc.. In contrast, a younger athlete may find training to be much more enjoyable if they laugh or joke around once or twice per session.
Environment plays a big role in how the athlete will improve, but also being sure they want to come back; they want to hold themselves accountable and make as much progress as possible. It takes so many reps, workouts, etc., to be great—they need to really want to come back.
On the contrary, I’ve been a part of gyms where the atmosphere is just dull and lifeless. They may have been doing all the “right“ exercises straight out of the handbook, but there was no real juice that got things going. I take a lot of pride in knowing that I typically don’t lose too many athletes over the years. Maybe one or two once in a while will leave to go elsewhere, but I know their reasons are never environmental issues.
Aside from that, something else I take a lot of pride in is being able to pivot an athlete’s program toward something that we both agree will work better. If you work with an athlete long enough, you will find that the training they did three or four years ago doesn’t really produce the same results as it once did. Three or four years later, the kid who was a scrawny 150-pound junior in high school is now a 185-pound college starting shortstop. His needs have changed. No longer does he need to pack lots of bodybuilding into his program; instead, he needs to pivot toward speed, joint stability, sport-specific work, etc.
We constantly measure key performance indicators but also talk consistently about what things the athlete feels they’d like to address. After all, they are paying me to help them get the results they want to see.
A few years ago, I started training a Major League Baseball player who came to me at age 28. He was always big into lifting: Westside Barbell, conjugate method, everything you can imagine in that realm, he was all about it…but he started shifting his mind toward something else. The thought of loading 400–500 pounds onto his back started to become less and less appealing. “Why would I do that? I see my friends and teammates do that at age 30, and they constantly say they feel like crap and get hurt.”
By no means is this an indictment of those exercises, but a realization that pivoting toward dumbbell reverse lunges and sleds, etc. lowered his barrier of entry to coming in to hit an intense leg day. He still runs just as fast as he did when he was younger. He’s healthy and enjoys training legs hard, but we don’t do anything with a bar on his back. I guarantee if I was stubborn and told him to keep squatting, he would have packed up and left right away.
Freelap USA: How do you balance training your athletes at a high level as well as experimenting and being innovative in pursuing more knowledge/refining your craft?
Bill Miller: My big thing lately has just been measuring performance with whatever exercises we choose to do in a program. (Obviously, not every single thing can be measured, but we try to do as much as we can.) I think a lot of the innovation comes from finding ways to measure and then pivoting the exercises toward a certain adaptation, depending on what the measurements show us.A lot of the innovation comes from finding ways to measure and then pivoting the exercises toward a certain adaptation, depending on what the measurements show us, says @billmills. Click To Tweet
If an athlete is elite with light loads but struggles with slightly heavier loads when we measure in the exercise, then I make sure that we steadily load the exercise more over time and improve output. For example, an athlete might be elite with a very light dumbbell jump but struggle once the weight gets heavier. So we slowly and steadily progress them to be able to perform better at that heavier load as the program goes on.
On the other hand, I would also say that we might emphasize the stretch-shortening cycle more with some athletes than others. Those who really struggle from more of a dead start and are elite with the “bouncy” stretch-shortening cycle could greatly benefit from starting the movement from more of a dead start. Measuring the two different variations gives us that information.
Something I’ve fallen a little bit off the wagon with is finding new exercises all the time. A few years ago, it started to feel like I was grasping at everything and anything new to fit into the program. The reality is that every time we add a new exercise, there’s going to be that learning curve involved. So, when we get better at the new exercise, there may be some benefit, but there will also be a lot of mystery to see if improvement in that exercise will actually translate to becoming a more powerful, robust athlete on the field.
Therefore, a lot of the exercises I do now are the same ones we’ve always been doing but just with a different emphasis. I know that the improvements they make are real—not beginner gains.
Freelap USA: Having your own space is nice, but it has a huge overhead cost. In your experience, as you’ve always rented space, what’s the key to being a good tenant/renter, and what’s your thought process on renting versus owning?
Bill Miller: Sharing space is way more challenging than it sounds. In my experience, just being nice and respectful to everyone seems to be the best way to do it. If I walked around like, “Look at all the big pro athletes I train. I’m a hot shot; nobody can talk to me,” that would ruffle a lot of feathers and rub people the wrong way. So then, if I have a bunch of crazy high school and college athletes in making a lot of noise and playing loud music, those people who would get mad at me would then file a complaint to somebody else, and I would get yelled at by management.
I’ve been booted from two places now, mainly because the organizations as a whole were failing. But many times in those cases of failure, I was purely involved in myself, not involved with how they wanted to improve the company’s outlook in the future as a whole. Something that I try to do more of now is be more at the forefront of where the business as a whole is headed.Before, I’d look at training methods I disliked and shun those types of coaches. But at the end of the day, they’re human beings, too, says @billmills. Click To Tweet
The pro/MLB guys I train are slotted to do events here at the facility, and I’m much more comfortable talking to other trainers—even if I think the agility ladders and long distance running they do is garbage. Before, I would look at training methods I disliked and shun those types of coaches. At the end of the day, they’re human beings, too, just trying to make a living and not work a 9–5 desk job. I can get down with that. I think the biggest key to sharing space is to look past our differences and always try to be a better tenant overall. I view it as more of a privilege than a right to work in the private sector.
Freelap USA: After publishing two books and continuing to work on a third, as those are huge undertakings, can you describe the process of going from an idea to a finished product and share any advice for those thinking about writing a book?
Bill Miller: I have two big tips for anyone writing a book:
- Keep your writing cap on. If you told me to sit down for five hours straight and crank out a paper in college, I couldn’t ever do it (or I’d just haphazardly slop something together in 45 minutes). What I did for all three books was use speech to text, the Notes app, and anything else to continue to jot down ideas throughout the day.
If you’re passionate enough about something to write a whole book on it, it’ll be on your mind all day long. You don’t want any good thoughts to go to waste! I’d say that a majority of the rough drafts were written via speech-to-text, stuck in Chicago traffic on my way home from training that day. I’d have so many ideas buzzing through my mind that it just felt right to get them “written” down somewhere as soon as possible.
- Make sure each chapter answers a question. It might not be worth its own chapter if the one you’re working on doesn’t offer new information or clarification on something for the reader. In fact, all the chapters I wrote in my first couple of books were questions I made up or had gotten through social media. I typically get 5–10 questions from different people about training throughout the week, so it was pretty easy to see what people were most interested in, needed clarification on, etc.
Finally, if you’re going to do it…just let it rip. Don’t let perfectionism ruin your ability to create! I come across very smart people from time to time who say that they would like to write a book eventually but don’t feel ready to do so yet. There’s a lot of that “If this isn’t an A+, I don’t want my name attached to it” mentality.You can’t live in fear of what people (many of whom you will never meet in real life) might say, says @billmills. Click To Tweet
For one reason or another, there’s a little bit of fear in their mind that they won’t make a product people would get something out of. I definitely had to overcome that fear and just do it. I literally had to say to myself, “If people like it, great. If not, oh well, at least I gave it my best effort.” You can’t live in fear of what people (many of whom you will never meet in real life) might say. Every comment section everywhere online has at least one jerk who goes out of their way to say something rude. If they don’t like my book, my life will go on just the same.
Freelap USA: Technology is a big part of your training (and training in general). A unique piece of yours is the Proteus. In general, or using the Proteus as an example, what’s your vetting process for deciding whether to invest in technology?
Bill Miller: This is probably not the best advice I can give a reader—so take my words lightly! I look at training in a very unique way: “What is this athlete missing that they need to play Major League Baseball someday?”
That is my mindset with every athlete I come across. It’s a very “Pull out all the stops to get results” approach, not a “This makes sense for my bottom line” approach. Starting with that mindset—with a very unrealistically high expectation of the type of progress I hope to see with them—I’ll then hold myself to a very high standard as well.
So, if there is technology out there that I feel could be beneficial and give us incredible data and feedback, much like the Proteus does, then I will go all in and make it happen. Things like ROI and making money off the Proteus all came as an afterthought. As long as the athletes I train day in and day out—my crew—are all feasting, getting better, climbing toward that goal, that’s what drives my decisions.
All that being said, I knew that we would use the Proteus a lot on an everyday basis. It wouldn’t just be something we used once and then collected dust. As long as I know that athletes will accumulate thousands upon thousands of reps with the machine and see a benefit from doing so, I have no problem spending the money on it.
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