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

Interview with Andrew Read, Master RKC

Andrew Read is a Senior RKC and founder of Dragon Door Australia.  Even before becoming an RKC, I’ve been highly impressed with Andrew’s work for his interdisciplinary knowledge of both strength training and endurance racing, which is a unique combination.  You can follow his training journal HERE as he prepares for his Ironman debut at Ironman Melbourne in March.  Although our main focus in this interview is strength training and endurance sports, know that Andrew also has a very impressive background in martial arts, Olympic weightlifting and the military, among other fields. 

1) Thanks for the interview, Andrew.  Could you introduce yourself to the readers (background, education, current roles)?

**I've been a trainer for about twenty years. In that time i've worked as a strength coach to elite athletes and a few actual world champions to every day people just looking to be in the best shape they can be. I'm a Senior RKC, the distributor for Dragon Door in Australia, the National Coach for Primal Move and the National Director for FMS. I have written for Blitz, Inside MMA, International Kickboxer, Oxygen, Ultrafit, Triathlon and Multipsport and Breaking Muscle (where you can follow all my athlete journals at www.breakingmuscle.com/andrew-read). Right now I'm about 12 weeks away from Melbourne Ironman so my main focus is on getting in the work I need to do in order to have a successful second triathlon (as my first was the 70.3 I did last weekend). 

2) Who are your greatest influences as a coach and athlete?

**I've been very lucky. My Taekwondo instructor, Joon No, is now the national coach so starting with him at ten years old because he was the closest to our house was a stroke of luck. When I started in the fitness industry my first boss, Conn Constantinou, has turned out to be one of the most remarkable gym owners in the country winning the fitness business of the year award three years running. When I started investigating strength training for performance I came across Ian King who is probably the most ripped off man in the industry today and the first seminar of his I went to is still the corner stone for everything I do today. 

As an athlete it's hard. There's so many great athletes to choose from. I like Chris McCormack for his attitude and demeanour. Despite his recent fall from grace I have to admit to a huge man crush on Lance Armstrong too. I come from a fighting background and champions who don't just compete but go out to beat their opponents into submission every day are favourites with me. My BJJ coach, John Donahue, taught me many things about myself too. Even in the middle of IM training I don't think I've veer done anything physically harder than the competition training he sued to put us through. That kind of thing teaches you a lot about yourself. 

3) Endurance athletes often have some ”interesting” ideas about strength.   What are some common misconceptions about strength that you see and hear in this population?

**This is such a minefield. I think the biggest problem is that you get strength coaches on one side who think that all that running is bad for you and you need a bigger deadlift. On the other side you have the endurance guys who worry that they may add 100g of muscle and slow down. At elite levels of either sport there's not much room for the other thing - elite lifters don't need to run and elite distance runners do not need to lift. The problem for most people is that they're basing their own training on this tiny 0.1% of the athletic population without realising that their own needs are vastly different to someone who runs a 2.10 marathon. A 3.30 runner will benefit from strength training just like a guy with a 300lb deadlift, but who can't walk up a flight of stairs without being out of breath will benefit from some aerobic work. 

The problem is that not many really understand both. I know I didn't. That's a large part of why I'm using myself as a crash test dummy and doing ironman. I believe after I've done that I'll understand better how to mix the two. It's easy for strength coaches to tell a triathlete they need to be in the gym three times this week and lift heavy because they don't understand what it feels like to run for two hours on a Saturday morning, swim that afternoon then back it up Sunday with a 4-5 hour ride with a 30-60 minute run off the bike. No one is deadlifting well the next day after that. 

But then the athletes also need to be realistic too. For me, the role of strength training isn't at all about gaining strength for these guys - certainly not pre-race or in season if they're sprint triathletes. It's about injury prevention. If we can make them more robust they will be able to handle more training sessions and that ultimately means higher speed and better race performance. All that garbage with the bands and the tubing just won't cut it, you are going to need some load. If I could put in there too that given the hours spent on a bike and in the pool that posture suffers quite a lot a large part of gym time should be spent on getting out of that sport position. Sure, it makes you more efficient but you don't want to live in your aero bars position. 

4) On a positive note, despite the common misconceptions, you’ve obviously been quite successful helping athletes change their approach.  What are some thoughts to help educate endurance athletes about better ways strength train?

**I trialed so many things at the start of this adventure. Luckily I had a couple of other people who allowed me to use them as guinea pigs too so we were all working on different things to begin with. Athletes know their bodies. Within two or three days of trying something new they'll know whether it helped them or not. And pretty quickly we got rid of all the bilateral lower body stuff. Single leg is helpful for many reasons - our sport is unilateral, there are elements of anti-rotation/ core stability in all single leg work, it helps keep weight low while keeping force production high and because you use less weight the body doesn't tighten up as much - heavy squats and deadlifts make you feel awful on long runs, just stiff and tight. Our key single leg exercises are the single leg deadlift, step ups and calf work. I believe the calf work is vital, particularly for the over thirty-fives. having bullet rpoof lower limbs means less time off from running related injuries. 

We also use a lot of body weight exercises. That's one of the reasons I'm so psyched about Dragon Door's new Progressive Calisthenics Certification - body weight is ideal for endurance guys for the same reasons as single leg work. There's a lot of core activity, it keeps body weight low and helps you stay supple. We finish with a choice of swings, snatches or long cycle clean and jerks alternated with sled pushing. Warm ups are 100% Primal Move. I think Primal Move is a great addition for endurance guys but I haven't been able to explore it much as I got hit by a car a while ago and my wrist still isn't great so crawling is painful for me. But I'm pretty sure that Primal Move, body weight, single leg then a bit of kettlebell ballistics is about as good as it's going to get. Pick the exercises based on the person, don't get locked into thinking that this is the world's best triathlon plan - there's no such thing. While my group of crash test dummies has found similarities we all come from a similar background and you may need something else. 

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5) Non-endurance athletes often see easy distance as “junk miles,” unnecessary,” or (my favorite) “that looks far to me, therefore you’re overtraining.”  Can you explain why, quite simply, easy distance really does matter?

**I have to laugh at most strength coaches. Look, if they haven't seen their feet in years or look like the only thing they've run for is the front of a buffet line then don't take training advice from them. (Or diet, but that's another gripe entirely). I just laugh when I see that they'll advocate something like Grease the Groove or Easy Strength - programs which are based on a foundation of frequent, "easy" lifting - but can't see that the easy aerobic efforts do the exact same thing. Speed is about efficiency and you get efficiency from spending time at your sport, not in the gym. The more time you are out there getting it done the better you get. The problem is that you can' go hard that often. Those hard sessions - the cruise intervals or the lactate threshold stuff just wreck you for days if you do them right. But you can stick in easy sessions in between, or even on the same day as recovery sessions. They give you miles and have zero recovery cost beyond how long it takes your heart rate to return to rest. The easy sessions are the corner stone of endurance work. Any event past two minutes in length is primarily aerobic anyway - why all the fuss over hard anaerobic stuff? Brett Sutton does almost zero anaerobic work with his tribe yet they are probably the most successful ultra endurance group on the planet. 

6) We often hear people make short term swim/bike/run improvements by cutting miles and focusing on the gym.  But is it realistic to expect these racing gains to persist indefinitely?

If you're a total novice in the gym adding in some strength work will make a difference. There's even studies around showing improvements in elite racers doing 4RMs. The thing you never hear about is a long term study to show how those improvements tail off. I think that most endurance athletes, as in those not racing for podiums but as part of an overall healthy lifestyle, should spend two sessions working on strength each week with a third sessions solely devoted to flexibility. It's sustainable and it will continue making a difference to injury prevention long term as well as overall health. 

The biggest mistake I often get is the idea that a bigger deadlift solves all your problems. No it doesn't. It won't make you faster at all unless you're so weak you struggle to pick your runners up off the ground, or lack the pattern entirely. If you're that detrained it will make a difference, however for the rest of us a bigger deadlift won't improve your swim time. And last time I checked there's no barbell under the clock at IM so you have to finish the race and validate your time by pulling double body weight straight after the race.  

7) Obviously every individual has different needs, but in general, what do your prioritize for endurance athletes seeking strength without impairing their racing? 

**We start everyone with an FMS screen. That shows us where they are individually and is always the start of all of our training plans. Then it's a matter of slowly trialling what they need to do and for how much while keeping an eye on their sports training. The moment it stops being helpful we either back off or change direction. 

8) Many people know the RKC, but Primal Move is relatively new.  Can you briefly introduce us to Primal Move and describe how/why the RKC and Primal Move can be ideal complements to an endurance training plan?

**I think Primal Move is great. I run whole day instructor courses here and I always find that i swim and run incredibly the day after. The thing people misunderstand is that firing up those cross body connections that are involved in crawling and rolling will have a massive carry over to other cross body activities such as running and swimming. It is very easy to blend my preferred plan of a Primal Move warm up that flows straight into body weight strength work and then a small amount of strength conditioning via kettlebell ballistics in a session that doesn't wipe you out but leaves you invigorated and ready for a hard sport specific session. I hate hearing people say they were wiped out after the gym. What's the point of that? It's supposed to supplement your real training, not take it over. Primal Move is just a great tool for that. 

9) Having embarked on the Ironman journey and competed in your first half-Ironman what stands out in this learning process?

**Open water swimming. I'm a good swimmer - I swim a 1.9km TT in the pool in 30-31 minutes. Yet in my first 70.3 I swam 36! Just a lack of practice which is sad. 

Lack of running. I had multiple calf injuries (six in total - three each leg) leading up to this over the last six months. I really only had three weeks of run training leading in so my run was never going to be slick. That was the first half marathon I've run and doing it on three weeks training wasn't ideal. I've now got some advice from marathon great Rob de Castella and building my run volume to better handle the marathon for the IM. 

The rest of it was good fun. I've put in the time in the pool and on the bike to make both of those things feel relatively easy and even though I didn't run fast I had picked a pace for the ride (my IM HR) that i thought would also allow me to be reasonably fresh for the run. I managed to run the entire course which was a distance PR after the 15km mark (and I'd only run that the week before anyway). The key then is to spend enough training time so you can handle those distances. I also made sure to hire a coach - this isn't my area of expertise so I sought out the best guy I could find. 

10) You’re obviously a busy guy…swim, bike, run, lift, and of course coaching!  Can you share some of your time management keys for others who aren’t full-time athletes? 

**A diary. It blows my mind how people say they have no time but also have no plan for how they're going to hit their tasks for the day. I plan out my week on Sunday night roughly and allocate where my sessions go and where PT goes, etc. Then I spend the first ten minutes of each day reviewing it and making a firm plan for the day. Everything for the day from client times to training sessions to meals to phone calls gets put in a spot and when I get to that spot I stop whatever it was i was doing, if I'm not finished it yet, and move to the next thing. I find really putting time pressure on myself is beneficial for productivity. When you know you have ninety minutes to write a 1500 word article you get it done. When you have all day it takes all day. It may seem anal to some but my way works and it allows people to get far more done in a day than they think possible. Usually when i start clients on this process they often find they have far more free time than they thought they did. As a result, even with a higher training load they still have time to keep family bonds strong and spend time with their loved ones. 

11) Any projects that we should look for in the future?

**This whole adventure is going to be a book. I don't like the black and white nature of the fitness industry. It seems like everyone is all one sided. There's a happy middle ground between only lifting and only doing endurance work that is actually what everyone needs. The problem is that not many have the courage to step outside of their comfort zone and go hang out with the other tribe. This hybrid strength and conditioning training is the most functional training on the planet - it really is giving people that go all day out run a zombie and still be able to fight later kind of fitness that so few have these days. I've upset a lot of people over the last year by blowing their preconceived (or highly marketed) concepts out of the water. I pulled a double body weight deadlift two weeks ago in the week before the 70.3. A month ago I did 151 24kg kettlebell snatches in five minutes in the week leading up to teaching at an RKC event. I'm nothing special athletically but I have figured out how to blend it together. These guys who tell you that it has to be all one thing or another are just trying to get your money. I;m here to tell you not to believe their hype. You can have both strength and fitness and your life will be better for having both. Running is one of the things that sets us apart from the other mammals - we can sweat which allows us to eventually run down any prey. Ignoring it is ignoring 750,000 years of human evolution. Humans run, and they run far. 

Description: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/images/cleardot.gifThanks, Andrew!  Have a great race in Melbourne!


Excellent read

Great interview Allan. I really enjoyed reading that. Definitley on point. Great work Andrew as well. Danny

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