Training

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

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!

Fix Your Gut Issues with these Tips

It has been estimated that 30-50% of athletes experience gastrointestinal discomfort during endurance activities, and in one study of long distance triathletes, nearly 93% endorsed gut symptoms. Symptoms can range from an annoyance to a severity that pulls you out of the race (second 0:47). In this post we will review the major causes of gut discomfort in endurance athletes and what you can do to prevent them.

 

Decreased blood flow to the Gut

Reduced blood flow to the gut is a normal response to exercise because blood gets diverted to the muscles. Gut issues arise when exercise becomes prolonged, intensity increases, and/or the athlete is dehydrated. These variables compound the effects of decreased blood flow to the gut causing discomfort. Unless, you're doing a recovery workout you will likely experience one of these variables during your training and racing.

Solution:

Stay hydrated. The science behind hydration and exercise can be barely summed up in a doctoral thesis let alone a blog post but here is a good rule of thumb to get you started:

  • If less than 2 hours you can usually get by with just water, but only if you go in well fed and hydrated, and the intensity remains medium to low.

  • Otherwise, drink 20-40 oz of fluid per hour in the form of an electrolyte drink (eg, Skratch Labs, Osmo) and water

  • Take in 250-1000 mg of sodium per hour in the form of food or drink

 

Nutritional

Diminished blood flow to the gut can make small nutritional differences a big problem while exercising. Fiber, fat, protein, and fructose have all been associated with increased gut discomfort in endurance athletes. Regardless, of what you use for nutrition there is one thing that will screw it all up: dehydration. Hydration drives nutrition! Without adequate fluids the food you eat will sit in your gut like a giant burrito.

Solution:

  • Avoid high fructose foods. Foods, gels, and drinks with a combination of carbohydrates appear to be better tolerated.

  • Avoid high fiber foods during exercise

  • Eating while exercising should be followed by fluids - Hydration drives nutrition!

  • Don't drink your calories – Separate your hydration from your nutrition.

  • Avoid products with sorbitol. Many of the gels, chews, and electrolyte products out there contain this sweetener, which can cause diarrhea.

 

Mechanical

The repetitive jostling of your gut while running is thought to contribute to GI upset, diarrhea, and flatulence. Issues with reflux can also arise with poor bike fit. Being in a tucked, aero position puts extra pressure on the abdomen potentially leading to heartburn.

Solution:

Runners can work on improving their vertical oscillatory movement (ie, how much you move up and down with relation to the ground while running). Less oscillation not only makes you a more efficient runner, but will be less jarring on your gut. Having your bike professionally fit will help reduce issues with reflux.

 

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)

Drugs like ibuprofen, Aleve, and aspirin increase gut permeability (“leaky gut”) causing discomfort. Use of these drugs can also contribute to stomach and duodenal ulcers. Studies have also shown that NSAIDs can impair performance as well.

Solution:

Don't take them before or during a race – stick with Tylenol.

 

Take Home Tips:

  • Hydration drives nutrition!

  • Don't drink your calories – separate your hydration from your nutrition.

  • Don't use NSAIDs

  • Don't wait until race day to figure out what works best for you.

You need to know how much water, sodium, and carbohydrates you should take in for every hour your training or racing. The complexity of this only increases with the extremes of temperature. But the better you can dial in your nutrition and hydration the better you will perform and the fewer gut issues you will experience.

 

Foolproof Recovery Tips for Athletes

recovery-tips

When you're not training or racing, you’re recovering. Optimizing your recovery is just as important as how hard you push yourself in training and competition. Described below are some of the best ways athletes can enhance their recovery.

Compression socks

If spandex weren't demeaning enough we subject ourselves to becoming a running and cycling LiteBrite when dawning compression socks. I’m still waiting for a 80’s style tube-sock version (hint hint 2XU!). Compression socks have been around for a long time in the medical community where they are used for treating venous insufficiency and preventing blood clots.

More recently the athletic community started using compression garments to improve recovery. It is thought that they improve oxygen delivery to the muscle tissues. Studies have shown effects on perceived leg soreness and muscle function as well as blood lactate clearance. However, the ideal strength of compression is not clear (ie, pressure - mmHg) nor how long an athlete needs to wear them for the most benefit. In the meantime, rock on with your glow stick self!

Nutrition & Hydration

Of all the methods of improving recovery on this list, nutrition is the most important. Thankfully it is pretty straight forward because it’s done by the numbers:

For a 70kg athlete running 1.5- 2hrs or cycling 2.5-3hrs at moderate intensity:

Within 30min of completing your workout consume 1.0 g of carbohydrates per kg body weight and 0.3 of protein per kg of body weight. However, the amount will vary depending upon intensity and duration (0.5-1.5g for carbs and 0.3-0.4 g for protein).

Eat a meal (ie, real food!) with a similar ratio of carbohydrates and proteins within the next 1-1.5 hours.

Keep your water intake up, especially after an intense workout. The easiest way to determine how much water you need to drink is to weigh yourself before and after a workout (16oz = 1lb).

Unfortunately, alcohol is not good for muscle recovery, so save the Pappy Van Winkle for celebrating your podium placement.

Massage

You may not have a personal saugnier to give you a massage after every ride or run, but I've found that scheduling a massage after my especially intense rides and races works well – my muscles get a massage when it’s most needed.

Sleep

Once upon a time I could work a 30 hour shift (ie, medical residency, ie, forced labor) and then go ride 60 miles, but that was neither sustainable nor ideal for recovery. If I hoped to still function at my job as well as perform well as an athlete I needed to sleep first.

Every person has a specific amount of time they need to sleep. For most people it’s about 8 hours. Research has shown that when you don’t get enough sleep athletic performance decreases and immunity is impaired.

Pro tip! Better quality sleep occurs with cooler ambient temperatures as well. So make sure to get your 8hrs and keep the A/C on or the window open.

Foam roller

Who doesn't love the foam roller!? Sure, it hurts, but as John Mellencamp said “make it hurt so good.” Foam rolling is thought to work by repairing the myofascial tissue as well as improving circulation. Make using it a routine – after making yourself a recovery drink, spend 10-15 minutes hurting a bit more on the foam roller.

Electric Muscle Stimulation

Though the research remains equivocal, many athletes swear by it. I’ve tried it myself and found it helped some significant muscle cramping I was having in my right hamstring. However, the stim units are not cheap! But they make for a fun party trick at the very least. If you've exhausted every other means of improving your recovery they are certainly worth a try.  

Ice baths

Athletes have a masochistic streak, but plunging yourself into ice water after a hard workout takes it to the next level. It sure as hell isn't as fun as Lebron James and Dwyane Wade make it look standing in an ice bath tweeting to their fans. Like, electric stimulation the jury is still on its efficacy, but cryotherapy has been used for years in athletes and again most swear by it.

I don’t fill the bathtub up with ice often, but I do find it beneficial after a hard workout on hot days. An ice bath cools my engine down quicker, which is especially helpful for those late in the day workouts when you, in turn have trouble sleeping.

Probiotics

Probiotics improve immunity. Improved immunity means better recovery and less sick days. The effects of probiotics are strain specific so you’re not going to get any benefit as an athlete consuming a container of yogurt or taking a probiotic designed for the general population. Probiotics exemplify the understanding that what goes on off the track, out of the pool, and off the bike is just as important – you're an athlete 24/7.

Improving how you recover is not an optional activity. If you want to perform at your best you must take advantage of every opportunity to optimize recovery.