An interview with Scott Umberger

An interview with Scott Umberger, personal trainer & physical preparation coach

Talk to Scott Umberger for a minute and one thing is clear: He’s passionate about what he does. The personal trainer and physical preparation coach has learned from the best and shares it with the athletes who train at his gym in Pittsburgh

And it’s not just any type of training. Work with Scott and you’re gonna work. It may tougher than you’ve ever worked – train optimally, not maximally – but it’s data-driven and personalized for you. His goal: To make you a better athlete, inside and out.

“Everything changes with me,” Scott says.  

Tell us about your background and your approach to training. 

Without a doubt, my approach to training is my desire to get better. In the early 1990s, the internet wasn’t the vast array of useless performance information that it is today. Even today, only the most elite coaches are “in the know.” In the U.S., we’re finally using technology that’s been used in football and rugby for more than a decade. 

And thanks to Facebook and social media, I’ve learned and been “in the know,” connecting with some of the best and brightest in the field. Their willingness to share information has turbocharged my knowledge. I can honestly say that the elite human performance world’s a small one.

Buddy Morris of the Arizona Cardinals has been one of my biggest influences. His willingness to share what he’s done and currently doing is what brought Westside Barbell and Charlie Francis into my life. That knowledge was a game changer. 

James Smith was pivotal, completely changing my coaching philosophy. He opened my mind to the real Soviet sports science and to other elite scientists and coaches, including Carl Valle who was also a Charlie Francis guy. At this time, I was trying to confirm my training. He helped me analyze the data. I was also using heart rate variability (HRV) with Ithlete to uncover my programming and how it was affecting my athletes’ daily trainedness. 

Carl also introduced me to many great coaches and minds, including Henk Kraaijenhof, Dan Pfaff, Ralph Mann, Hakan Andersson, and Randy Huntington. These guys have consistent success in a validatable sport, like track, over periods of time with various athletes. 

How has your approach to training/nutrition changed over the years?

My education is in large part from outside the U.S. – Australia and Europe, and from AFL, rugby and soccer. Some techniques include IFT and yoyo tests. 

  • An IFT is for a baseline of aerobic capacity so I have numbers to train on. 
  • Yoyo tests involve 20-meter back-and-forth sprints with a rest period that stays the same. The time from start to 20 meters varies, getting shorter and shorter so you must run faster and faster. 

I’ve studied a lot of track athletes and coaches because what they do can be validated. It’s harder with team sports because there are so many variables. The more I learn, the simpler and more specific I get with training. Train optimally, not maximally. 

Do the athletes you work with have any misconceptions about training when you start working with them? Do their views change after working with you? If so, how?

Most of them have never really “trained.” They may have done some strength training, but not specific to them as an individual. They’re survival experts used to surviving at sub-max intensities for way too long and way too often. They’re continually crushed by coaches and can’t perform maximally. After 4-6 weeks of training with me, things start to come together. And then they’re 100 percent. 

Most people also don’t understand that they don’t eat enough. Eating 4,000+ calories a day for most athletes blows their minds – especially after logging what they eat for a few days. That’s a huge wake-up call. And they start eating more. Then a “miracle” happens: They start to lean out while gaining some muscle mass. 

Sleep is another issue. Convincing athletes of sleep’s importance and recovery is a slow process. Drinking alcohol effects quality sleep, too. 

Many athletes also struggle with being aware of their weekly and monthly schedules. This is a must – especially in the summer when they’re juggling training, work and a social life. Missing a training session on Monday destroys their week if they’re going out of town and miss Friday’s session. 

To summarize, everything changes with me. My biggest concern is the other 22 hours of their day – the time they don’t spend with me. And athletes work their butts off when they’re with me.

What’s the easiest thing to correct?  What’s the hardest thing to correct?

Only a few of the athletes I’ve worked with aren’t quad dominant. Between sitting all day and never learning how to move, most are “knee benders.” I can help athletes balance out, but it’s a tough issue to overcome. 

The bigger issue is the lack of foot and ankle health, or lack of dorsiflexion. Thanks to some slow-motion video, I captured some startling dorsiflexion issues during the gate of a few athletes.  

Valgus is a strength and motor control issue that varies between athletes. It’s not a big deal if I can work with the athlete a few times a week for a few months. Once they understand that their knees collapse when they jump or decelerate, I can show them what they should be doing. The changes are initially mechanical, but become more natural as they progress. 

How important is the psychological/mental side of training? 

It’s everything. You have to give each individual what they need without crossing over too much. I’m a big believer in mental imagery. And in tricking your mind. For example, a D1 hockey player who shows up on time and works his ass off. That’s what you’re supposed to do, but is he ready for all scenarios? 

Grit has been a hot topic. We have an entire generation of softies – we’re less mentally tough and strong. Good training and putting yourself in uncomfortable positions allows you be grittier. For example, learning how to deal with lactate. Learning about that discomfort helps you learn how to push through it. Through good training and coaching, you can learn how to deal with that – and when to back off what you need to.

What are one or two main things athletes can do to help prevent injuries? 

Take care of yourself. Don’t burn the candle at both ends. You’ll be at a higher risk for injury if you’re working 100 hours a week and stressed. 

Track your nutrients. I’m a big fan of InsideTracker and Sound Probiotics. 

Eat well and get enough sleep. What’s going to happen if you go to bed at 11:30 p.m. and have to train at 6 a.m.?  

On your website you mention the importance of the need for training outside a sport. Why is that important? How does that help prevent injury? 

Proper preparation for a sport should be all encompassing. The best lessons are learned on the practice field and while preparing for the competition. I’ve worked with all sorts of “non-traditional” sports, including motocross, figure skating and equestrian. Because our education in exercise science, biomechanics, kinesiology is so lacking in the U.S., even those who have degrees don’t truly understand performance. The academic focus is on repairing an injury or imbalance to baseline. 

At best, the coach has expertise in that specific sport. Their experience in preparation for that sport consists of what they learned from other coaches without any form of human performance background. It’s the “that’s what we did” form of education. 

Rather than using my knowledge to teach an athlete who’s seeking more outside what they’re getting in gym class or with their team, I teach them fundamental athletic movement. Over 15 years of working with athletes, only a handful didn’t have terrible running mechanics. Even gifted runners need tweaks to make them faster. 

My point: I fill in the blanks with each athlete. And it’s different for each athlete and each sport. Our current system lacks development and education of our youth. That has nothing to do with athletes.

How important is recovery for an athlete? Do you have any good at-home strategies to help athletes recover faster and better? 

Put down the cell phone. When you’re attached to it, you can’t unplug and get away. It’s a constant stream of information in your face. So put it down before bed. Create a space where you’re going to sleep better – and that could include going back to an alarm clock (vs. using your cell phone).  

Other good recovery strategies:

  • Float tanks
  • Relaxing music 
  • Mediation
  • Sleep with earplugs and a mask
  • Blackout blinds in your bedroom
  • Eat well – meal prep on Sundays to set yourself up for success, and have good food around

Do athletes come to you with an understanding of gut health? How do you teach your players about gut health?

In general, our country knows nothing about diet and nutrition. Learn how to us MyFitnessPal. Use it for a couple weeks to get your nutrition numbers and where you’re at. And get in tune with your body. I strive for balance and recommend a diet of 30-35 percent carbs and 150 grams of protein. And remember to hydrate – being dehydrated is bad for your body. 

We’re also pretty ignorant to gut health and have no idea how many times a day we should be going to the bathroom. The more you’re aware of food prep, the better your gut health is going to be. And it’s better when you take a probiotic. Your body’s a machine, and the better it works, the better you’ll feel. Would you put cheap fuel in your Ferrari? No – and you shouldn’t put cheap fuel in your body. 

Connect with Scott on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and his website

The Protocols

As with any athletic intervention or training regimen it is helpful to have a protocol by which to help guide its execution. Nutrition and supplementation should follow such protocols. Taking a capsule supplement daily is one such protocol. However, we frequently get asked about any necessary changes for taking Sound Probiotics based upon different circumstances that face athletes: What if I’m traveling? What about before competition or a big training block? What if I’m starting to get sick?

These are honest and important questions that need to be answered for athletes and their coaches. Unfortunately, the research has not provided us with many definitive answers. But it has provided some guidance and along with our numerous conversations with professional athletes and coaches we feel confident in putting forth protocols to help address these questions and to better utilize the benefits of Sound Probiotics. While we erred on the side of a formula with a CFU count beyond what was usually used in the studies, individual needs can differ. It is possible then, that some athletes will need a higher dose especially during particularly intense and stressful events or travel.

You feel like you are getting sick:

Our first encounter with taking additional doses to stave off illness came from a veteran professional triathlete. He told us that at the first sign of any cold symptoms he would triple the dose (3 capsules) for 48hrs. The triathlete said that he had successfully warded off a cold twice by increasing the dose. Of course, I was skeptical…until I tried it successfully myself. My own experience got me thinking about a possible mechanism by which acutely increasing the dose of the probiotic would be of benefit. 

One of the mechanisms by which probiotics exert their beneficial effects on immune function is through direct stimulation of the immune system. Probiotic strains are capable of affecting an acute immune response by:

  • enhancing immune cell activity
  • increasing antibody production 
  • stimulating the important protective mechanisms of proteins called interferons
  • These effects may occur more quickly than the other ways by which probiotics affect the immune system. It is possible then that an increased dose of probiotics could lead to an enhanced acute immune response – enough to ward off an impending cold; a therapeutic effect, not just a prophylactic one.

Since the first athlete to report these findings to us, and my own experience, we have had other athletes discover this solution as well. While we would like to see a study performed on the acute, therapeutic effects of probiotics on relieving cold symptoms the anecdotal evidence from our product and the known physiological mechanisms of probiotics is a strong argument for this use. 

Acute Illness Protocol: At the first sign of cold symptoms (i.e., cough, congestion, nasal drainage, sore throat, etc) increase the dose to 3 capsules daily for 48 hours. If you are feeling better after 48 hours you can return to your regular daily dose. If you continue to feel sick the increased dose may shorten the duration of the illness, therefore continue to take 3 capsules for a total of 5 days. 

Traveling, prior to competition, and/or a large training block:

Traveling, competition, and increased training intensity all impact immune function. I’m sure you have experienced getting sick shortly after one of these events. The rational for this occurrence is known as the ‘Open Window’ theory whereby immune function is impaired for approximately 3–72 hours after strenuous exercise. 

We have athletes using Sound Probiotics, who despite a total reduction in sick days during competition, still fall ill after particularly strenuous events or international travel. For these athletes we devised the following protocol based off of the evidence from the acute illness protocol as well as taking into account the other mechanisms by which probiotics exert their beneficial affects on immune function, namely intestinal barrier protection.

Increased Stress Protocol: increase dose to two capsules a week prior to international travel and/or a large training block/competition. Continue to take the increased dose during the event and for 3 days after the event or returning home. 

 

 

Tips and Training with Dr. Jason Ross, D.C. ART C.S.C.S.

Dr. Jason Ross,  D.C.  ARTC.S.C.S.  is a Doctor of Chiropractic and Strength and Conditioning Coach. Dr. Ross runs Train Out Pain Chiropractic in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was the official chiropractor for the United States Bobsled team. In fact, he was himself a two-time member of the US Bobsled team as a push athlete. 

Dr. Ross trains and treats a variety of athletes from recreational to professional and we caught up with him to talk training, injury prevention and a whole lot more.

Two twists of fate landed Jason Ross as a chiropractor in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The first: He got a scholarship to play rugby, a sport he loved more than football. Two shoulder dislocations and a two grade 3 A/C join tears later, his second twist of fate arrived in rehab: his doctor said he’d make a great bobsled push athlete. 

Six months later, he performed well at the combines and made the U.S. National World Cup bobsled team – and graduated from chiropractic school. After competing for a few years, he retired and started practicing chiropractic medicine full-time. A year later, he was back on the team, but this time as its chiropractor and strength coach. He traveled with the team for four years. In 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, their teams won gold in the four-man, and the women won bronze. 

How has your approach to training changed over the years? 

I place less importance on the numbers. If you lift 30 more pounds on your squat it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re improving. I’ve also changed my stance on good/bad exercises and the cost/benefit. I ask myself, is this worth it for this athlete?  

Do the athletes you work with have any misconceptions about strength training when you start working with them? Do their views change after working with you? If so, how?

A few misconceptions that are still around:

  • That strength training will make them bigger
  • That strength training will take away from their sport
  • Not lifting because you’re tired and sore 
  • Lifting during race week

Guess what? When done right, lifting will help your race! Athletes also realize that they feel better after lifting. Lifting should complement all phases of your sport, offseason, preseason, race prep and recovery. 

What is the easiest thing to correct? The hardest? 

The easiest thing to correct is lift technique. And even getting someone stronger. The hardest thing: convincing an athlete they don’t have to feel crushed or wore out or dripping in sweat to have accomplished some quality training.

What are one or two main things athletes can do to help prevent injuries? 

The biggest injury prevention tip: sleep. More research is proving this. Quality nutrition also helps. If these two aren’t covered, you’re wasting your time and kidding yourself on improving or taking your sport seriously. 

What are the biggest challenges facing athletes in sport? 

At the amateur level, the biggest challenge is how to pursue your sport at the highest level and still balance family and work. Most mountain bikers, runners and triathletes aren’t fully sponsored athletes. What they do to balance all aspects of their lives is more impressive than a full-time professional. They’ll tell you how hard it was to get where they are. 

How important is the psychological/mental side of training?

The mental side of training is what separates the top 1 percent from the rest. There are some people who just don’t quit. They have GRIT. They don’t care they got four flats – it doesn’t derail them. They just keep competing. At the end of the day, everyone you see on a podium is mentally fit. The ones you don’t see on the podium may have more talent, but they pull back or lose focus. They can’t pull themselves out of a setback. 

How important is recovery for an athlete? Do you have any good at-home strategies to help athletes recover faster and better? 

Recovery is the cornerstone of training. Some recovery techniques: 

  • Sleep – it’s crucial and even quick naps on a consistent basis help
  • Foam rolling – try it for five minutes after workouts and before bed
  • Low level aerobic work (heart rate under 110) – a great movement practice after hard workouts 
  • And I’m biased, but I think everyone should see a chiropractor at least monthly for joint health checks

Do athletes come to you with an understanding of gut health? 

Gut health is becoming more prevalent. The elite level has known about the health benefits of good gut health for a while, but I think the everyday athlete is just starting to see it. People are realizing the importance of absorbing nutrients and producing neurotransmitters – and the affects it has on personality and the desire to train. 

Also, no one can train on an irritated bowel! Athletes are surprised when I tell them how much our guts impact the entire body. 

Everyone I work with who’s been taking Sound for a few months has commented that they have more energy, feel more robust, and had fewer viral infections. And those who’ve gotten a cold recover faster. 

How do you teach your athletes about gut health? 

I teach through example. I constantly talk about recovery and nutrition’s impact. But even great nutrition that isn’t absorbed isn’t great nutrition.  

What trends in fitness / training are you paying attention to?

A few I’m watching now: 

  • What elite athletes are doing and their trickledown affect 
  • Melatonin – is it the new vitamin D?
  • Optimizing brain health, including techniques like HALO
  • Breath work, like CO2 use, breath hold and maximizing Anion gap 
  • Sauna for heat shock protein
  • Cold exposure for brown fat optimization 

And, according to your site you like espresso, playing with your dog and reading. What’s your favorite espresso? What kind of dog do you have? And what’s the best book you’ve read in the past year?

We’re spoiled In Grand Rapids. We have the great coffee and espresso. The best coffee is Rowster Coffee. My family has a French bulldog – my daughters love him, and he’s a solid part of our family. 

I love reading nine or 10 books at once. A few interesting books I’ve read lately: 

  • The Secret Life of Fat by Sylvia Tara – all about how fat can think 
  • What Doesn’t Kill Us by Scott Carney – a book about physiology, breathing and cold
  • The Oxygen Advantage by Patrick McKeown – a book about breathing and its effect on physiology and how we can maximize it for performance
  • The Hungry Brain by Stephan J. Guyenet – a book about how our brain is wire for food an eating and how to combat it 

Follow Jason on Twitter or on his blog

Composed and written by Erin Klegstad

6 Quick Questions with Pro Cyclist Ryan Anderson

Ryan Anderson is a pro cyclist with Team Direct Energie. He has been a part of the professional peloton since 2011. Ryan is a two-time road vice-champion of Canada. He made his Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta a Espana in 2016. We were able to catch up with him as he is preparing for the spring classics. 

What have been the biggest differences in your training as you have worked your way up from amateur to professional rider?

On the bike my training has not changed all that much in the last few years. I think a big difference is that my race load was at its peak last year, and with that base I feel I can push a little harder coming into this year. I also gain a little more experience year to year, and have recently been doing more off the bike strength work which seems to be helping.  

How do you balance proper nutrition with your ideal race weight?

I do my best to maintain a good weight that works for me all year. I just try to eat healthy and always try to make things from scratch when I have the time as I really enjoy cooking. I have also been trying to do a better job of planning ahead this year with meals when I am at the store. When I am at home in Canada I can go to the store whenever I want, but when I am living in France I find it's easier for me to plan ahead. 

How has focusing on gut health improved your performance?

So I have to say this year is the first time I have focused on gut health and I believe it has played a big part in keeping me healthy! Staying healthy has let me keep on track with my training and racing plans. So far this year I have traveled a lot including long haul flights from North America and I am constantly on short flights within Europe, so there has been no shortage of exposure to germs. But despite this, I have been healthy this whole winter which has been a first for me! I hope to keep this trend going for the rest of the year!

What tips do you have for bouncing back from illness? 

The biggest thing I have realized is to just take the time to get better when you're sick – rushing back to train is just a shortcut that you will eventually pay for!

What kind of things do you do to optimize recovery after a race or hard training block?

I just make sure to stay hydrated and eat well right after a race and also to stay on top of stretching and massage. All of the little things add up; I find once I let this stuff slip it's a slippery slope. 

What race are you most looking forward to this year and why?

Right now I have my sights set on the upcoming cobble classics season as it's about to hit full swing. So much can happen over one of these days; things are good one minute and bad the next. You never really know what's going to happen which makes for some good stories!

5 Questions with Pro Mountain Biker Todd Wells

Todd Wells has been winning bike races for a very long time. In 1996 he won two Cross Country Mountain Bike Collegiate titles and the success never stopped. Todd has won fourteen National Championship titles across four disciplines. He has racked up wins in both the Leadville 100 and La Ruta de Los Conquistadors. Todd has competed in the Olympic Games not once but three times. He currently races for Team Scott and provides professional coaching services in between podium appearances.

You have won the Leadville 100 three times. How has your approach to nutrition during the race changed over the years?

That’s a great question. The first year I did the race I thought it was going to be like a road race where we would take it easy through the feed zone, and I could eat a sandwich. It took me about four minutes to get down one bite of my nutella sandwich. Since then I’ve dialed in my nutrition where I’m eating mostly Clif Shot blocks and bars in the first half of the race and gels in the second half. The pace is too high and the air to dry to get down much solid food. 

I try to eat every half hour and I try to drink as much as I can comfortably get down. I also don’t consume as much caffeine as in the past. I try to eat more 25 mg caffeine gels then one big 100 mg, which seems to be easier on my stomach. 

How has focusing on gut health improved your performance?

I found Sound Probiotics after a few rounds of antibiotics this fall to get rid of a nasty respiratory bug. I was worried about my gut and after talking to some other endurance athletes I gave Sound Probiotics a try. Since using the product I have had less stomach issues on the bike and have felt much healthier overall. I just got back from a family vacation in Mexico where everyone got the stomach bug except me. I firmly believe the probiotics helped to keep me healthy. As an endurance athlete just staying healthy can be a huge advantage not only when I’m competing but when I’m building up to a race as well. 

What advice would you give to a new competitive cyclist about fueling for races?

My best advice would be to try it in training first. Nutrition is so individual that what works for one person could have a completely different effect on someone else. If you have access to hard group rides that is the best place to test nutrition because it’s the closest you’ll get to a real race. When I find something that works I stick to it and try to replicate it as closely as possible each time. If you’re traveling a lot internationally this isn’t always easy but here in the US it’s pretty simple. 

What part of your training have you found works for you, but might be different or unique from your teammates or other cyclists?

I find I do a much larger volume of training then a lot of my competitors. Because I do so much volume I also do less intensity. I find it easier to grow my engine and drop my weight with big volume. If I’m fresh enough to get that super high intensity I usually give some up in my overall motor size. 

Do you have a favorite cheat meal or bad-for-you food that you indulge in?

I love chocolate. Everything in moderation is fine but sometimes I just can’t stop myself once I get started. I also love Nutella so I’ve incorporated that into my prerace meal. I always look forward to race morning because I know I’m gonna have my fill of Nutella.