Canadian Strength Coach Matt Jordan is straight from the Olympic games in Salt Lake City where his country received 6 gold, 3 silver and 8 bronze medals. It was an event that he says is "truly a different environment than any other sporting event you can imagine."
[ CB ] Matt, getting a chance to watch the Canadian team at the Olympics, wow that must have been amazing! Are there any moments that stick out?
[ MJ ] Emotional is a great way to describe the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. There was of course the fabulous feeling of watching Catriona Le May Doan win a gold in the Women's 500 meter and the feeling of despair watching Jeremy Witherspoon fall off the start in the Men's 500 meter.
I will start with Jeremy's race. Jeremy is one of the most powerful athletes I have ever encountered. He is a true physical specimen. His best quality as a competitor though, is his mental toughness and his ability to perform under immense pressure.
The first day of the 500 meter competition he was looking great. In fact, the day before the finals I sat with him after he set a personal record in a timed lap in practice and he was relaxed and confident. No one expected what was to follow 24 hours later.
All I can say is that sometimes even the best and most consistent athletes make mistakes. In Jeremy's case he caught the ice with the toe of his blade (this is a matter of millimeters) and stumbled to the ice.
There is no good explanation for why this happened. I view it as a matter of probability. Take 200 races from any elite athlete and at least one will contain a "fatal error." This is a matter of statistics and the law of probability. Jeremy just had his happen on the wrong day.
I have to mention though that the next day, after the bitter disappointment of falling in the first 500 meter race; Jeremy came out and skated the fastest 500 meter time of the day, beating the current world record holder and the eventual gold medalist.
Too bad the determination of the medalists in the Olympics is based off a combined time in the 500 meter over both days of competition otherwise Jeremy would have probably won the gold.
Jeremy went right back to training and competing as soon as the Olympia was over. That disappointing day has been overcome and Jeremy will return once again to win many medals, including Olympic medals.
Catriona Le May Doan:
As for Catriona, all I can say is she stepped up and pulled off one of the best performances I have ever seen. After the first day of competition, Monique Garbrecht-Enfledt from Germany was only 3 hundredths of a second behind Catriona's time. That was the first time in two years that anyone had been that close to Catriona in the 500 meter.
Day 2 was simple - Catriona had to beat Monique and to top it off they were paired together. Catriona opened up fast and down the final straight away she had a 10 meter lead over Monique. Catriona crossed the finish line first and won the gold.
As you can probably imagine, I, along with all the Canadian Team, were ecstatic. Catriona is one of the best competitors I know. She is also a wonderful person and it was a great feeling to watch her win a gold medal.
[ CB ] Matt, you have worked with many female athletes, correct?
[ MJ ] This is correct. I work with several female athletes including snowboarders, alpine skiers, speed skaters, hockey players and baseball players. I am a strength and conditioning consultant for the National Sport Centre in Calgary and I am the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Olympic Oval at the University of Calgary.
[ CB ] What type of programs do you typically implement for these athletes?
[ MJ ] My programs vary depending on the athlete I am training. I have several athletes for whom I prescribe weightlifting (i.e. Olympic lifts), but I always base my decision on the type of training to be given on the training age of the athlete and of course the desired training effect.
[ CB ] Head Strength and Conditioning Coach! That is amazing. What is your education and professional education background?
[ MJ ] My undergraduate degree is in Kinesiology and I am completing a Masters of Science in Exercise Physiology. My main research area is the effect of whole-body vibrations on skeletal muscle. In addition, I am a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the NSCA, and a certified Level II Weightlifting Coach through the NCCP.
[ CB ] We've discussed vibration training a little in the past, can you describe it at a general level, with respect to skeletal muscle adaptations and where you see this fitting in the future of athlete training?
[ MJ ] Vibration training is a very interesting training modality. Vibration training causes a large increase in muscle activity due to reflex muscle contractions and the resonance properties of muscle tissue.
I believe vibration training also has a positive effect on the hormonal status - increases in GH and testosterone can be observed after vibration training. Vibration training can also lead to substantial improvements in explosiveness.
The best way of describing this in simple terms is a quote from a physiologist in Holland:
This is obviously not a scientific explanation but it does give an idea of the potential of vibration training. Vibration training can also help with recovery and can be used as a warm up tool prior to programs designed to improve explosiveness.
My research is designed to evaluate the acute effects of vibration training on muscle. Hopefully I will have a better explanation of how vibration training makes us more explosive after I conclude my research.
[ CB ] What are your experiences in training elite young female athletes? Do you only work with elite athletes?
[ MJ ] I have been working as a strength and conditioning coach for several years now. Over this time I have had the opportunity to coach several elite level and developmental level female athletes in alpine skiing, speed skating, snowboarding, hockey and baseball.
I have also trained non-athletes and individuals who are just trying to improve strength and body composition for aesthetic purposes and health reasons. I have found this work to be very rewarding and it has been a lot of fun.
Given the high performance environment that I am working in, most of the female athletes I coach are very dedicated and committed to their training, and this makes my job much easier. I have found that female athletes have the same potential for improvements in strength and body composition as male athletes.
One of the biggest factors in female athletes achieving this improvement is getting them to realize the benefits of strength training and then getting their heads around the misconception that the weight room is reserved for men who are "trying to get big." I hear this comment way too often from female athletes who are just starting out in the weight room.
[ CB ] What are your personal achievements as a coach?
[ MJ ] I have had the opportunity to train several elite level female athletes. This includes medalists in World Cup Alpine Skiing (i.e. Downhill, Giant Slalom, and Slalom), medalists in World Cup and World Championship Speed Skating, and a medalist in the Goodwill Games in Snowboarding.
After the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City I also added two female athletes who medaled in Speed Skating to my list, and several top 8 finishes in speed skating and alpine skiing.
[ CB ] Matt, were you fortunate enough to have any involvement with the Canadian women's hockey gold-medal performance?
[ MJ ] No, I did not. I worked with the female hockey team prior to the 1998 Olympic Winter Games but I was only an assistant strength coach for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Six years ago, I worked with a couple of female hockey players who participated in the 2002 Olympics but their strength coach is now my colleague Jason Poole.
On the male side, I have trained several world cup and world championship medalists, as well as actors and martial artists. One of my other accomplishments at the 2002 Winter Olympics was an athlete who won the gold medal in the 500 meter in speed skating, and a kick boxer who just won a North American Title Belt.
Day to day though I think the weight room is filled with opportunities for personal achievement. I consider it to be a personal achievement anytime an athlete accomplishes a goal whether it is a positive change in body composition, a new personal record in the power snatch, or an improvement in their front squat.
I also consider it a personal achievement when an athlete or someone who is just out to get in shape trains with me, improves and then decides to make strength training and fitness a regular part of their lifestyle/training regime.
[ CB ] It is great to hear Canadian success stories. With your experience, you have undoubtedly learned a lot about training for the female athlete. What are your tips for the elite female athlete and for the young female athlete? How do these differ from the males that you work with?
[ MJ ] These are some general tips for female athletes:
Learn proper lifting technique.
Progress slowly with the type of lifting you are doing as well as with the load you are using. Don't ever sacrifice technique for quantity.
Learn how to focus during a set and to really push yourself.
Plan to get stronger every workout. Add a little bit of weight to the bar every workout, even if it is 2.5 lbs/side. Of course this is only if you have accomplished the required number of repetitions in the previous strength training session with GOOD technique.
Plan for regular variation in your workout structure and loading parameters.
These are some tips for female athletes that are different from male athletes.
Female athletes, and many male athletes for that matter, will often have a difficult time maintaining alignment in the hip, knee and ankle during squatting movements (this is evidenced by the knees coming inward during a squat). Find a qualified professional to teach you the proper mechanics of these movements.
Don't be embarrassed to push yourself in the weight room and to show the effort you are putting in. I find a lot of times female athletes who are just starting out are shy to show that they are really working hard during a set and this will limit their performance.
Don't think that just because you are lifting weights you will automatically "get big." This is a fear of young women that they will get too big. Putting on muscle mass is not easy and even if you do it is not necessarily a bad thing. Increasing your muscle mass will go a long way to improve your body composition.
[ CB ] As a quick aside Matt, what are some of the lifts and athletic activities that hold special interest to you? You really enjoy the Olympic lifts, correct? Are there any totals that you are particularly proud of? Have you tried much speed skating yourself or have you been able to take advantage of the beautiful slopes out there?
[ MJ ] I am a recreational competitor in weightlifting. I really love the Olympic lifts. There is so much more to them than a bench press or bicep curl. This is not to say that I don't enjoy other strength training methods as well.
I also participate in martial arts and I have been doing martial arts for 5 years now. I currently practice Muay Thai Kickboxing and Jiu-Jitsu. Both styles are offered through the club I train at. Other than this, most of my time is spent working and researching.
[ CB ] Matt, everybody that has watched speed skating is amazed by the physical structure, raw power, and incredible endurance of these athletes. What is it like to stride all out for 500m in this event?
[ MJ ] The television does not do it justice. When you are ice-side and watch one of these athletes scream by you at 60 km/h and then hit the corner, their body leaning at a 45 degree angle to the ice, you realize just how amazing it truly is. I am astounded at the power these athletes can put out - the speed skaters are unbelievable to watch.
[ CB ] What are the training methods that give speed skaters and cyclists such dominating thigh musculature? Does it start with genetics? Is it the volume of intense muscle contraction from their events?
[ MJ ] Genetics play a huge role in sport. There is no question about it. The nature of the sport is important though in the massive thigh development we see in speed skaters and cyclists.
Just for fun, try squatting down so that your thighs are parallel to the ground, maintain this position and then sprint for 1 minute without allowing your knee angle and back angle to change (CB - "For fun?"). This will give you an indication of the type of pain these athletes endure.
The role of strength training is also very important and it is probably the most important factor in obtaining massive legs. Unlike sprinting in track and field, thigh volume (i.e. leg size) is very, very important in speed skating. We have a specific thigh volume that we are trying to attain with each athlete.
Strength training is by far the best way to seriously increase thigh development. The speed skaters spend a lot of time doing different types of squats and deadlifts (e.g. front squats, back squats, single leg squats, Bulgarian split squats...).
[ CB ] Getting back to the female athlete, what is the #1 mistake you see girls making?
[ MJ ] It's simple. Too often, female athletes are not pushing themselves in each set.
[ CB ] So how does a coach correct that? Is it simply a matter of time and comfort, and that after a while the female athlete will develop more focused training? Are there any tips that can speed this process?
[ MJ ] I think the coach can go a long way in setting the atmosphere to help athletes become more focused during training. This is one area that I am really going to try and improve upon this year. I try and stay serious during training sessions. I think the coach sets the tone on how the athletes will behave.
[ CB ] Matt, are there any nutritional issues that you see as greatly different between the genders? Are there any techniques that you find more valuable in females as many females that are health conscious also seem to gravitate towards vegetarian eating?
[ MJ ] I find female athletes have a greater propensity to not get an adequate protein intake during the day. I encourage all my female athletes to consider taking a protein supplement and of course to eat lean sources of protein throughout the day.
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[ CB ] Matt, before we end the interview, can we touch on the dark side of female sport? Those who are knowledgeable in health and fitness know just how prevalent bone health issues are in older women, and many people also are aware of the health issues plaguing female sport (i.e. concerning practices in gymnastics). Can you shed any light on these issues?
[ MJ ] This is a very difficult subject and I am afraid I am probably not qualified to answer most of these questions. All I can say is that I try my best to make sure that I reinforce the right concepts and support all my athletes in becoming self-confident.
I think if we all do our part as fitness/coaching professionals to set the example and the standard on what is appropriate to say to young impressionable athletes, and if we live by these standards ourselves, we will go a long way in making our clients healthy, both mentally and physically.
[ CB ] That's a positive attitude and is no doubt conducive to learning good health. Staying focused and serious during the session is great advice. What are the 3 top things you have learned in your schooling and experiences as a strength coach?
[ MJ ]
Everyone has a different physiological and psychological makeup and training responses will vary depending upon the individual.
Keeping athletes motivated and helping them to stay focused and determined is as important as one's knowledge of strength training and exercise science.
There is always more to learn.
[ CB ] Good point. How would you describe your philosophy?
[ MJ ] Approach every training session like it is the gold medal race/game at the Olympics. This does not mean you have to push yourself to the maximum every session - sometimes training is easier sometimes it is harder.
It simply means that confidence, focus, a positive attitude, and proper execution of the training plan are the goals in every training session... these mental attributes make a champion and allow the body to reach its full potential.
[ CB ] Great words of advice. What are your short-term goals?
[ MJ ] My goals are to continue to work with Canadian amateur athletes through to the next Olympic Winter Games in 2006. I also want to start working with more hockey players. Skating technique and strength training are my background and I think I could make a difference with hockey players.
[ CB ] Any athlete would be wise to seek your advice! Matt, you are a pretty young guy with a great amount of success. Congratulations. Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?
Will you pursue a doctorate in coaching or exercise physiology? Will you continue on at the University of Calgary or do you think our country will expand its major coaching centers throughout Canada?
[ MJ ] I have a couple of possibilities for my long-term goals. I see myself pursuing a Ph.D. and possibly getting more into research at some point. In the next five years though, myself and one other colleague, a strength and speed coach for USA bobsleigh, are planning to start our own training centre for high performance athletes.
[ CB ] Finally, can you offer any words of advice to coaches, students, or athletes that want to learn more about training, or follow a career in strength and conditioning?
Any tips to those that want to continue schooling in exercise science? You yourself were very wise to seek the advice of Dr. Sale; perhaps you could briefly describe this experience and what you learned?
[ MJ ] In this industry you have to be self-motivated to learn. I try and read for at least 2 hours a day on topics related to sport science and strength training. Also, making contacts is a great idea.
I have benefited greatly from some of the contacts I have made throughout the first couple of years of me trying to break into this industry. Finally, get involved. I volunteered for two years, and then worked for another two years getting paid next to nothing while I started working as a strength coach.
The experience and the reputation you gain from this type of work cannot be replaced by any amount of education.
[ CB ] Matt, thank you so much for your time. This interview has been amazing. CB ATHLETICS is very honored to know an individual that has amassed such experience and experiences. Congratulations!
This will undoubtedly be a great resource for CB ATHLETICS, young female athletes, and coaching hopefuls. Good luck with your future aspirations!