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Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

Interview with Keats Snideman

This week we’re privileged to have Keats Snideman, CSCS, RKC, FMS, LMT, CNMT, for an interview to discuss track and field, massage therapy, and even the kettlebell!  You can find more from Keats on his website Coach Keats.   

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1.             Thanks for the interview, Keats!  Please introduce yourself to our readers (coaching background, mentors/teachers, current duties, and your own athletic pursuits).

Allan, it’s my pleasure to do the interview! As far as my background, I have been involved in personal training and athletic development coaching since 1995. In 1999, I started my studies in massage therapy. Specifically, I began to study neuromuscular therapy after learning about this effective form of soft tissue work from famous corrective exercise guru and holistic health practitioner, Paul Chek. Paul had a great influence on me in the late 90’s as I started to really study the human body in a much more thorough way. Thus began my incredible addiction to buying very expensive clinical-oriented textbooks! So from that point on, I became much more interested in corrective exercise in things like posture and muscle imbalances having also started reading the works of the late Vladimir Janda.

Around the same time, I started also being heavily influenced by the writings of strength coaches such as Charles Poliquin, Charles Staley, Pavel Tsatsouline and others. From a track and field perspective, specifically with regards to sprinting which is my passion, no one had more influence on my thinking process than the late Canadian sprint coach Charlie Francis! His book Speed Trap is still of the best reads for any coach interested in speed, power, and strength development. In the early 2000’s, I also really got connected with the concepts of skepticism/critical thinking and the scientific method in general.  I started to questions the overly dogmatic posture principles and corrective exercise that I had learned from guys like Paul Chek. This transformation was really spurred on by the writings of the late Sport Scientist Mel Siff on his Supertraining Forum on-line and his classic text of the same name along with Facts & Fallacies of Fitness.   In 2002, I actually spent some time in Mel’s house outside of Denver, Colorado which was a life-changing experience to say the last. I really miss Mel Siff and wonder what he would say about the state of affairs in the fitness/S & C industries if he were still around today!

Over the last 4-5 years I’ve also been using more of the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) from Gray Cook, Lee Burton and the rest of the team at Functional Movement Systems. I also finally took the Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC) a few years back as well as the CF-FMS (Certified Kettlebell Functional Movement Specialist). My twin brother Franz Snideman, Sr. RKC,  has been an RKC since 2003 after I told him about kettlebells way back then and I continue to host HKC’s (Hardstyle Kettlebell Certification) out of my facility a few times per year.

Currently, I am the owner of my own conditioning and massage business called Reality-Based Fitness LLC, which is based out of Tempe, AZ. I also do some Master’s Track and Field coaching (sprinting) and even work with the occasional young middle school or high school sprinter as well.  My twin brother Franz and I have also recently started a new company, Primal Speed, in which we plan to teach 1-day courses (for now) on how to learn to sprint for both health and athletic development purposes. We are also working on finishing a book by the same name!

2.    As a sprinter and I’m sure you’re glad outdoor track season is here.  What are some common issues you treat with your track athletes?  Do any consistent themes stand out to cause these issues?

Yes, it's always nice when track season begins! You bring up some good questions. Although I no longer subscribe to the dogmatic view that there is such thing as a perfect posture, you do tend to see many sprint type of athletes with excessive tone in the hip flexor musculature which can lead to chronic strain in the hamstrings and gluteal muscles as well as chronic tension in the lower back. Vladimir Janda called this the lower crossed syndrome and I do feel that attempts to lessen its negative effects are valid. On a functional movement screen, sprinters are often horrible on a deep squat test with excessive trunk flexion and inability to keep the arms overhead. You also see a lot of stiffness in the calf musculature in sprinters which can lead to the heels coming off the ground in the squat pattern. I have had a chance to work on some elite sprinters (mostly males) and world-class long jumpers and they all had very stiff ankles with subsequent limitations in their squat pattern. If most elite sprinters and jumpers have this trait, one must ask if this is actually a benefit as a stiffer lower leg can rebound more energy during each ground contact. So here is a case, as is often seen in athletics, where an adaptation might be positive for performance, but unhealthy for regular life.

I would say for the sprinter and running athletes in general, I am very concerned with the ability to maintain a stable pelvis/lumbar area during the stride which requires adequate mobility of the hip joint as well as motor control and stability of the spine and pelvis. The highest torques and forces in sprinting are produced at the hip joint so this must be a key area in training to focus on.

Many issues and injuries in sprinting can also stem from improper technique in which an athlete deliberately over strides trying to cover more ground. This is also referred to as front side mechanics and can lead to excessive strain in the hamstring musculature. Conversely, many younger athletes have excessive movement of the legs behind their bodies which is referred to as backside mechanics. The real key to sprinting is the proper delivery of force with the foot landing more or less underneath the pelvis, or center of mass of the sprinters body. Proper coordination and timing of the arm action is also very important. As they say, “speed is a skill,” and although true speed is primarily determined by genetic factors, every athlete can get faster with improvements in technique, strength, mobility/stability, and general fitness.

3.       What are some common errors you see in lifting for track events?

The biggest mistake would be not doing any lifting at all. With that said, some of the form and technique that I see in weight room lifts such as power cleans and power snatches are less than desirable! You do not have to be a polished power lifter or Olympic lifter to do the respective lifts, but you have to at least be safe and competent. In many cases, I think many track athletes would be better off omitting such lifts if they cannot be performed with a minimum level of proficiency. Thankfully, there are other options for power development such as explosive medicine ball throws, kettlebell lifts, and various jumps and plyometric movements which can create high forces within the body without the need for such technical proficiency as in an Olympic lifting movement. The basic power lifts can also be augmented by using chains and bands for power development in those athletes that are mature and strong enough to use them.

Finally, training like a bodybuilder or even as the athlete is also not a wise choice for proper strength and power development in the weight room. While there is a need for hypertrophy development in the younger athlete as well as the off-season, the main goal is to target the high threshold motor units when performing strength training and many bodybuilding methods will not adequately stimulate these fibers. This can be summed up nicely in the following statement which many coaches have witnessed: “looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane!”

4.       Although track races can be less than ten seconds, what are your thoughts on aerobic training for sprinters?

This is a very interesting topic, and one that I have altered my thinking on in the last couple of years. If you look at most of the popular writing these days on conditioning for speed, strength and power athletes  (alactic sports), you will see a lot of bashing of aerobic development methods with subsequent praise of high-intensity interval methods such as the infamous “tabata” protocol. What many people fail to realize, is that the alactic energy system, which is the primary system used in 0 to 10 second efforts, is recovered by using the aerobic system. If you aerobic fitness is poor, you quickly go into the lactic energy system which causes an increase in metabolic byproducts leading to subsequent fatigue and decreased force output. The best way to develop the aerobic system is to first develop what is called cardiac output, which is essentially an eccentric  strengthening of the left ventricle as well as an increase in the vascularization  of the of the entire body to help deliver oxygen and remove waste products from metabolic processes.  This is where steady state aerobic work, tempo runs,  and easy circuits work best trying to keep the HR between 120-150 beats per minute. Age obviously affects this range with athletes of increased age staying at the lower end of that spectrum for best results.

Being a student of the late Charlie Francis, I have always performed some tempo work in my training and routinely recommended to my athletes. For those who do not know what tempo work is for a sprinter, it is basically working at 60 to 75% of your best time and running/striding distances of 100-200 meters with a fairly short rest intervals.  So compared to all out maximal speed work, tempo runs are considered low intensity. This does not mean that they are easy however as heart rates can get well over 170 bpm, especially if you have low aerobic fitness, which I have always had since I avoided any aerobic work like the plague for many years. In the last couple of years, having been influenced by strength and conditioning coaches such as Joel Jamieson (MMA conditioning coach), Dave Tenney (Fitness Coach to MLS Team Seattle Sounders), and my facility partner, the very intelligent strength coach Patrick Ward, I have began to use a heart rate monitor during my conditioning work.

What I found, was that during my tempo runs, my heart rate was getting way too high which was keeping me from developing the proper cardiac output that I needed to help my anaerobic system recover from high-intensity training runs. This was also evident by a high resting heart rate (which was typically in the mid-high 60’s) and in constant muscle stiffness and soreness from my training. So by altering the length of my tempo runs and including more general circuits with medicine balls, a Schwinn air dyne bike, light kettle bells, Indian clubs, and other bodyweight movements, I have been able to create several different training circuits to improve my aerobic fitness without having to go out and run endless miles like a cross-country runner. However I do include a 20 to 30 min. easy jog once per week as this is an easy way to elevate my heart rate in the right zone and I have not seem to suffer any negative results. I think there is too much fear with many speed and power athletes that if they do any aerobic work, they will shrivel up and turn in to Gandhi overnight! I just don't think it's going to happen and speed and power athletes need to start developing their aerobic systems more.

5.        Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently earlier in your career as an athlete and coach/therapist?

This is a tough question, and one that I’ve thought of often. Since I do a lot of hands-on manual therapy work, I have often felt I should have gone to physical therapy school to add that into my repertoire. I am very interested in rehabilitation and injury prevention and really would like to have more mastery of joint mobilization, etc.. However when I look at the current affairs in the field of physical therapy, I am not sure I would want to do physical therapy like it is currently done. I also consider myself strength and conditioning coach first, more of the movement guy, with my massage and hands-on work secondary. Also, having been self-employed for so many years, I wish I would have taken more business and marketing courses since running a business is not my strong point! I also would have networked a lot more with other conditioning and rehabilitation professionals as I'm trying to do more so these days. It doesn't matter how good you are if nobody knows you exist!

6.        You’re created some excellent resources on your website for physical assessments, via the Functional Movement Screen but also ones for breathing, the big toe, and general posture (among others).  Can you discuss why it can be important to assess athletes initially and how you use this information?

It's very important to screen and assess your clients initially so you know what you're dealing with. I think the statement “if you're not assessing, you are guessing” is prudent here. Even if a trainer or movement specialist did a functional movement screen or a modified selective functional movement assessment (SFMA), you would get a lot of information to help you determine the correct starting point for your client/athlete and more importantly, what you probably shouldn't be doing in your training process! For those trainers and coaches unfamiliar with the SFMA, the clinical counterpart to the FMS, they should check out Charlie Weingroff’s “Training=Rehab, Rehab= Training” DVD set, available on his site (also check out Keats' review). Also, developing a rehabilitation referral network for non-medical professionals is vitally important, even if it means losing a client temporarily.

7.       For years you’ve been ahead of the curve in blending manual therapy with performance coaching.  Can you tell us why this marriage of disciplines is valuable?

Looking back, I guess I was kind ahead of the curve when I decided to start studying massage in the late 90s. I was so impressed with what Paul Chek could do between his assessment, hands-on therapy, and a properly designed strength and conditioning plan that there was no way I wasn’t going to add this in to my professional skill set. Since so many clients and athletes these days are entering a conditioning program with such poor tissue quality in their muscles and fascial tissues, it just makes sense that I can improve the state of these ischemic and unhealthy areas, I can get my clients moving sooner with little to no pain, we are going to make faster progress. If someone comes in and is a little beat up in a specific area of their body, we could spend a few minutes to try to improve that area and often can resume the training session with improved functional capacity.  The only problem is with the client who just decides they would like more hands-on work because it's easier than busting your butt in the gym trying to get stronger!

8.       What should a track athlete look for in choosing a manual therapist and what are some of the myths or misconceptions athletes should be aware of in the manual therapy field?

Ahh, another great series of questions! Most track athletes unfortunately can't afford routine manual therapy, but if they could, here's what I would look for: First, I would want to choose a therapist that has training in both sports massage and clinical type of massage works such as neuromuscular therapy, fascial release work (such as ART, Rolfing or myofascial release), or other orthopedic type of massage systems (such as those promoted by David Kent, Whitney Lowe, and Erik Dalton). However, I am a little leery of some practitioners who perform Active Release Therapy (ART) only, such as several chiropractors do. You may only get a 3 to 5 min.treatment of a given area which in my opinion is not nearly enough for the track athlete.

I would also steer clear of new age “energy” healers or chakra therapists! It's not that these types of therapies cannot be beneficial, they can be. However, the evidence for these mysterious energies, chakra’s, etc., is lacking. Getting soaked in a bunch of essential oils that make you leave smelling like a Patchoulli rose garden is probably not a great idea either and I would stayaway from that type of therapist!

As far as misconceptions and myths are concerned, the classic one that is promoted by massage therapists everywhere, is that lactic acid is the evil substance that is causing your soreness must be massaged out of your muscles. This is not true and people must learn that physiology researchers state that lactic acid doesn’t exist much in the body and is rapidly converted to   lactate, which is actually a useful fuel during exercise. Another myth promoted by massage therapists everywhere, is that you must drink gallons of water (not literally) after a massage to help flush out the" toxins" that have been stirred up from the massage. I don't like to think that our bodies are reservoirs of toxins and what is flushed out after massage and quite frankly all the time, are simply metabolic byproducts of normal metabolism.  Finally, many therapists promote that all tender areas of the body are “tight” muscles and that their trigger points must  be removed! Nothing could be further from the truth, as several trigger points in the body are actually serving a useful purpose by creating stability in a potentially unstable area such as a damaged joint, ligament, or joint capsule. Many tight areas are not even trigger points at all, and may be entrapped subcutaneous nerves or other abnormal impulse generating sites (AIG’s).  Things are not so simple in the human body! Unfortunately, this probably wipes out 90 to 95% of the entire massage therapist population. But there are intelligent and evidence-based therapists out there; seek them out!

9.       Endurance athletes are often hurt but aren’t the most objective about what they do.  As someone who has treated your fair share of injured ones, does anything stand out to you that would help reduce injury? 

With endurance athletes, a quite neurotic group of athletes, there are several factors that I see increasing their chance of injury and reducing their chance of proper rehabilitation once one occurs. First off, I see a lot of endurance athletes who never go through any type of screening process to see if they have any significant restrictions, asymmetries, or weaknesses. Performing repetitive activities with such imbalances can lead to massive compensations that will eventually lead to some sort of injury.  Next, it appears that excessive mileage or doing too much too soon when preparing for a race seems to be the a real culprit for initiating an inflammatory reaction in a given area, usually in the lower extremity knee or hip.  Finally, too much emphasis on aerobic energy system development with not enough emphasis on strength and power work leaves many endurance athletes underpowered and vulnerable to injury. This is sort of the opposite problem that many speed, strength and power athletes have, who are deathly afraid of aerobic work! A proper strength and conditioning plan, including periods of relatively heavy loads, are absolutely necessary for an endurance athlete in my opinion. Of course the word “heavy” is relative as I mentioned and does not mean that endurance athletes need to become competitive powerlifters!

10.   Coaches and athletes are bombarded with information these days both via science and popular media.  Can you offer any advice to others to help sort through all this with a healthy level of skepticism?

You are correct in saying that there is so much information out there these days which can be confusing since so much of it is conflicting. We are all flooded in a sea of information which can make it difficult to discern what is valid and what is true from what is invalid and false. Since I really embraced healthy skepticism in the early 2000’s, I have been heavily influenced by the writings of skeptics such as Michael Shermer of the skeptics Society, James Randi (the amazing magician), the late Carl Sagan, and many others such as late Mel Siff. To help encourage critical and scientific thinking, here is a list of characteristics that would be helpful for anyone these days:

(1) Keep an open mind, but be wary and skeptical of any of instantiated claims.

(2) Make sure that a claim or belief can be tested.

(3) Evaluate the quality of the evidence for any and all beliefs (e.g., assess the tightness of the controls and rely on anecdotal evidence only).

(4) Try to falsify the claim or belief (e.g., look for disconfirming evidence); don't just look at information that supports or confirms your current beliefs (e.g., confirmation bias). We all do this and should and should consistently embrace cognitive dissonance!

(5) Consider alternate explanations.

(6) With all things being equal, choose the claim or belief that is the simplest explanation for the phenomenon (i.e., the one that has the fewest assumptions). This is also referred to as Occam's razor as popularized in Carl Sagan's baloney detection kit (Google this).

(7) Again, with all things being equal to the claim or believe that the conflict with well-established knowledge. This doesn't mean that well-established knowledge can't be changed; it just means that there must be substantial evidence to overturn what we currently know about the universe and how things work (i.e. science).

11.   You’ve been an RKC for several years and recently added the CK-FMS to your education.  Many people dismiss the kettlebell as a passing fitness fad.  As an RKC, can you tell people why you believe in that system and why it is not just about the kettlebell?

The kettlebell certainly has become popular and I can see why many coaches would regard it as a gimmick these days. However, the Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC), as was created by Pavel Tsatsouline in 2001, is a constantly evolving and developing system of strength development (RKC=School of Strength!). Even though the kettlebell is the tool or vehicle through which this strength is developed in the RKC, the real key are the principles foundational to this incredible system. The 7 key principles of the RKC are as follows:

(1) strength is the master quality.

(2) strength is a skill.

(3) Yin/Yang duality of relaxation and tension.

(4)Yin/Yang duality of ballistics and grinds.

(5) use of speed endurance training for the development of power, different types of endurance, and promoting fat loss.

(6) safety is viewed as a part of, not the opposite of, performance (Robb Lawrence).

(7) reverse engineering up with the strongest and most powerful do naturally.

Although I feel the kettlebell is one of the ultimate tools for mastering the seven principles mentioned above, one could take the RKC and never actually use a kettlebell and still have great success using the seven key principles. So again, it is more about the principles than the tool; though it's hard to find a better tool in many situations than the kettlebell. In my own training and that of many of my clients, I still use barbells, dumbbells, cable resistance, medicine balls, sandbags, and other free weights including the ultimate free weight of all, the human body! Finally, the tool is only as effective as the person using it…

12.   You’re working with one of the fastest kids in Arizona, DJ Ware.  What can we expect from him in the coming years?

Well, you are correct in saying that he is one of the fastest kids in Arizona! I feel that if we can get him to relax more and improve his mobility, we can also improve his durability. He is a fantastic football player as well and has all the potential in the world to go very far. I think it's great that his love of track and sprinting is foundational to his football, rather than the other way around. I look forward to working with DJ in the rest of his high school career!

Thanks for fantastic interview, Keats!!

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