Patrick Ward Interview

Apr 27th, 2013

Category: Body Composition

Patrick Ward Interview

Last week I had the opportunity of sitting down with one of the smartest guys in the Strength and Conditioning field, Patrick Ward. We covered topics ranging from book recommendations to his (refreshing) view on aerobic training. I realized towards the end of our chat that I had too many aha-moments to not share them with my viewers. If you haven’t checked out his blog, get on it! Enjoy!

Given your level of success, I would love to hear any recommendations you have for breaking into the Strength and Conditioning field.

PW: Interning is a great option, but you have to be careful where you do your internship. It’s very easy to fall into one system and start adopting that coaches methods. Personally, I never did an internship, which had it’s pro’s and con’s.  The best part about not interning was the ability to use trial and error. If I wanted to know how an athlete responded to a certain method that I was learning about, I could try it whereas; in an internship you don’t have the freedom to do that. Regardless of the rout you decide to go, just focus on making as many connections as you possibly can. Email people and ask them questions, go to conferences and talk to the speakers, and most importantly be good at what you do. If you’re getting great results with your athletes your name will eventually get out.

Tell me a little bit about what you do at Optimum Sports Performance.

Pw: For the most part I do Strength and Conditioning and Sports Massage with a wide range of athletes. I usually don’t work with the general population too much, I probably lose money because of it, but I generally train people who have something coming up, competition season or event. If I do general population it’s most likely going to be massage work.

I know that you’re big on individualization in your programs, but would you ever consider training your athletes in a group-training format?

Pw:  I do some semi-private sessions, but every athlete will be on their own program. I’m not a believer in putting several athletes in a group and giving them all the same workout because no two athletes are alike. You see, there are so many factors to consider. There’s just no way to take care of each athlete’s individual needs if they are training in a group. Obviously in certain settings such as Strength and Conditioning at the collegiate level you will have to train your athletes in big groups. Just understand that when you train athletes in large groups you may not be able to use your “A” program but you may not have to use your “C” program either.

A common trend among Strength Coaches is to be an Aerobic hater. Most coaches prescribe their strength work, then throw in a couple of metabolic sets towards the end of the workout. You offer a refreshing view on Aerobic Training that some coaches may not understand. In one of your recent articles- Concurrent Training: Aerobic and Strength Training at The Same Time, you mention that the interference phenomenon is present when training for Strength and Endurance at the same time, so you like to focus on improving one while maintaining the other. How do you go about doing this, and do you use a certain periodization model?

PW: Yes that’s one area in which I differ from a lot of strength coaches, I am a believer that if the athlete needs more aerobic work I am going to dedicate a good amount of time to endurance training instead of just throwing in a couple of metabolic sets at the end of the workout. How much aerobic work an athlete needs depends on several factors, specifically the position they play, the system that they run, and the physiology of that athlete. Say we have Paul who is a fast twitch dominant wide receiver who can run a 4.2 40, he’s going to be great for his first two plays and his third, fourth, and fifth route are going to seriously suffer because he does not have that aerobic base. After the third or fourth sprint, about 40% or more of our energy contribution is coming from the aerobic system. If we increase his aerobic capacity he’s going to be able to recover a lot quicker between his routes. Now, say we have Paul the special teams punt-returner who again is extremely fast twitch dominant, in this case I may just continue to work on his strength/power and anaerobic abilities. Since he has such a long time to recover in between plays that the aerobic system isn’t really a factor. You even have to break it down to what type of player the coach wants. Does the coach want a particular wide receiver to be a consistent target or is he going to be the guy who comes in for one down and goes all out? You even have to consider what type of system the team runs. If you’re the tight end for Oregon you will need to develop your aerobic system more than the tight end that plays in a slowed down offense.

I really don’t use any cookie cutter periodization, I use a combination of several different models. I figure out what the athlete needs the most and I make sure that I have that as the number one priority in the training session.

So lets say you have a basketball player who is very strong/powerful and has a 40-inch vertical, but he can barely get off the floor in the 4th quarter. The coach wants his player to improve his endurance but he’s worried that he may not maintain his high level of strength. How would you attack this scenario?

PW: For the athlete that desperately needs increased aerobic capacity you really just need to decide what the main goal is and stick to it. Focus on improving his endurance and don’t try to do 5 different things at once, at this point everything else is maintenance and we are in the improvement stage of his aerobic system. Strength is actually pretty easy to maintain. A lot of coaches attack strength maintenance as if they need to max out or do a 3-rep max at lower volumes but I actually prefer an 80% intensity and a moderate volume. I will usually take the strength work down to 1-2 days/week so that we can focus on what we really need.

Do you use any type unilateral training as staple exercises and will you go heavy on these exercises?

PW: Yes, generally if I’m going to use a unilateral exercise as a staple it’s going to be a Safety Bar or DB RFESS, a Single Leg DL, Walking Lunges or a Step Up.

Are you big on the pistol squat?

PW: Not very big on the pistol squat although I do use it from time to time. Generally the more I learn and the more years I add to my experience the less exercises I use.

I work with mostly basketball players who are obviously at a biomechanical disadvantage because of their length, what lower body strengthening exercises do you use for this type of athlete?

PW: I don’t do back squats with them, though I have had success using the front squat position. I also like to use the RFESS with basketball players. I’ve found that dead lifts off the rack are an exercise that they can be very successful with and really strengthen their hips.

If you had to take percentage of what you learn on a weekly basis, how much would be from reading, how much from other intelligent people, and how much would be from just running into the info through trial and error?

PW: My biggest source of learning is reading and keeping up with the research, I read about two textbooks every month so I would say about 60% is from that, about 15% is just from sitting down with colleagues and just talking training, listening to what they say and comparing m methods to what they do. A major part of my learning comes from simply trying stuff out.

If you had to give some recommendations on must read books what would you give me off the top of your head?

PW: Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert Sapolsky (this book isn’t going to be specific to training but it’s stuff that you’re pretty much going to need to know if your going into any health related field, It’s pretty much about how the human body recovers and reacts to stress).

Super Training by Mel Siff and Verkoshansky

Science and Principals of Training by Zatsiorsky

Ultimate MMA Conditioning by Joel Jamieson

Optimizing Strength by Kraemer

PW: The problem is that I’m interested in so many topics that one minute I’m reading about the history of periodization and the next I’m jumping to anatomy, then nutrition, and then sports massage. It goes on and on!

Yeah that kind of sounds like me, I consider myself to have research ADD, when I read one of your articles I’m going along fine and then you bring up a term that I’m unfamiliar with and all of a sudden I’m researching that term. By the end of the article I’ve already looked up 10 new terms and researched them all. And finally by the time I’m done with your article it had taken me 3 hours to read it!

Thanks for the interview Patrick! It’s always good to see established experts in the field take the time to sit down and chat with up-and-comers like myself. Good luck with all the exciting things happening with your career!

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