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

A Visit With Tim Vagen

One thing we like to do when traveling is visit the best coaches in the area to observe their training methods.   During a trip to San Diego last summer, we were fortunate to spend several hours at the Titleist Performance Institute Junior Performance Center with Milo Bryant and also visit the gym of Senior RKC Franz Snideman.  A common theme among the top professionals in the field is a willingness to both share and learn new information, which probably explains why certain people are the best at what they do.   

When planning our visit to Seattle for last year’s USATF Club Cross Country Championships, Tim Vagen immediately came to mind as a man to visit.  Our colleague Tad Sayce spent a few days with Tim earlier this year and posted an excellent write up of his learning experience.  Tim has been at the top of the game for many years and is well known in the strength community, specifically for his work with swimmers.  Fortunately, we had a free morning during Friday of our trip when Tim had a full schedule of clients. 

Tim’s facility (Unlimited Athlete) is located in Renton Medical Center.  It is a great setup with half of a basketball gym dedicated to his training gear.   The other half of the gym (separated by a partition) is for group exercise class.  When we arrived the first two athletes were going through a dynamic warmup focusing on hip and thoracic spine mobility.  You can often tell which gyms "get it" within a few seconds, and Tim’s place was no exception.  Quality movement all around.   

Interesting tidbit: as I mentioned briefly in our race recap, one of the athletes was proposing to his girlfriend that evening and asked Tim for an extra-hard workout to take the edge off his nerves.  He got what he wanted, as his assignment was to do the set with a weight vest!  I don’t recall the exact set but it was a mix of battle ropes, med ball slams, inverted rows, box jump, BOSU pushups, and one or two other moves. 

Talking about the set and exercise choices led to a discussion on C----fit.  From the equipment (or lack thereof in the gym) to the exercise choices, this set looked very much like something you’d find in one of those C----fit gyms.  The biggest differences were having no competition for time and proper technique was the priority for the entire set.  You can still go heavy and go hard, but programming enough rest to ensure quality reps can separate a dumb workout from a great one. 

We also talked about Tim’s relationship with King Aquatics and head coach Sean Hutchinson.  Coach Hutchinson is a very progressive thinker in a sporting culture often dictated by blind adherence to tradition.  Fortunately, they share many of the same principles, which is a big reason the partnership has been wildly successful, producing the likes of Margaret Hoelzer and Ariana Kukors.  

Although Tim has worked with Olympic medalists, world record holders, national champions, and other high level performers, nothing excites Tim more than his personal training students at the community college and his senior citizen clients.  We talked at length about their projects and assignments (Gray Cook even came to visit class once) and it is clear that Tim has an unrivaled passion for teaching.

The use of unstable surfaces has been a controversial area in the strength world and in the rehab fields in recent years.  Many contend the pendulum has swung too far with unstable training becoming somewhat of a circus act and improperly replacing good old fashioned strength development.  However, swimming takes place in an inherently unstable medium (water) and may have different needs than land based sports.  In observing Tim’s workouts and talking shop, it seems that he has found an effective mix incorporating this type of training.  He shares many of the same ideas with Guido Van Ryssegem, whom I heard speak last year and who believes in organizing training along developmental progressions that honor the way the brain is stimulated by variations in movement.  Tim was also kind enough to give us his water ball DVD.  I tried some moves with the ball they had in the gym and it is much tougher than it looks!

After the first training session was complete, Tim had back-to-back senior citizen clients coming in.  This is another area in which Tim specializes.  I’ve long believed that the best coaches teach the athletes to become their own best coaches.  One of the seniors was a 70+ year old lady who trained with Tim once every couple of weeks, but wrote her own workouts with Tim’s guidance for her planning.  Most trainers probably couldn’t write a program as well as she can! 

Watching the other seniors come in during these couple of hours and demonstrate impeccable exercise form was really a beautiful sight.  Youngsters could learn a lot from this crowd.  As another indication of Tim’s passion for teaching, one of the athletes in the first session was actually an intern who had trained with him as a high school swimmer but later came back after college to work as an intern in his gym. 

Overall, this was a great morning and one of the highlights of our trip.  Tim is a big reason that the Pacific Northwest, and specifically the Seattle area, has become hotbed of enlightened thinking in sports performance.  If anyone in the sports performance field is visiting Seattle, I’d highly recommend paying Tim a visit! 


Thanks for Coming!

It was great to have you visit and I'm glad that the running went well!

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