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Interview with Dr. Jeff McBride

Jeffrey M. McBride, Ph.D.

I have had the pleasure of listening to Dr. McBride lecture at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina twice now and I have always come away more informed and enlightened enough to change my practicing and coaching ideas. His journal articles are always fascinating and defend/refute old ideas about how the body works.  So it was only natural that I did a blog interview with Dr. McBride.

Dr. Jeffrey McBride is a Professor in Biomechanics at Appalachian State University in the Department of Health, Leisure & Exercise Science, along with the Director of the Neuromuscular & Biomechanics Laboratory and Director of Graduate Studies in Exercise Science.  He has published 65 research studies in scientific journals and has 100 conference abstracts presentations.

(Q): What led you to become a scientist specializing in biomechanics?

(A): I have always participated in sports and exercise.  So my undergraduate major in exercise science was a perfect fit.  During my undergraduate degree, I started to become interested in resistance training research.  I was a competitive powerlifter for many years and started to focus on athletic performance, in particular the stretch-shortening cycle.  I met a scientist, Dr. Robert Newton, from Australia when I was at Penn State, completing my Masters Degree with Dr. William Kraemer.  Dr. Newton had similar interests in studying strength and power training.  I decided to go to Australia to complete my Ph.D. with him in the Biomechanics Laboratory at Southern Cross University.  There we were examining power output with different loads in the jump squat.  This involved biomechanical measurement techniques using a force plate, videography and EMG.

(Q): Your Neuromuscular & Biomechanics Laboratory always seem to turn out impressive work.  Tell us about your lab.

(A):  It has taken a long time and a lot of hard work to develop my laboratory.  Since we are always trying to do measurements and study topics in a new and unique way, we have pretty much had to make everything ourselves, from platforms to pulley systems, electrical systems, etc.. My father was a drag racer, so I was always working on engines and building various things by hand when I was younger.  I love to build new devices for making different kinds of measurements in the lab.  A very important component of my research is the assistance I receive from my graduate students.  They run the day-to-day operation of the lab and I could not perform my research without them.

(Q): You also do some track and field coaching.  Do you find your knowledge a hindrance (“paralysis by analysis”) or helpful when working with an athlete?

(A):  Because of my busy schedule with research, I really have very little time to work with specific athletes.  I recently, though, have had the opportunity to work with a very gifted weightlifter from Japan and also a great 800 meter runner here at ASU.  I find it interesting that a lot of practitioners actually have this problem (“paralysis by analysis”) and make training athletes much more complicated than necessary. My workouts are relatively simple, by some people’s standards, in that I simply use a couple of simple exercises like squats, power cleans and plyometric exercises like drop jumps.  Strength and conditioning is simply a supplement to an athlete’s overall training program.  Most of their training takes place on the field.  The most difficult part of training is regulating volume and intensity of training, not picking which exercises they will use.  When I do train an athlete, I have spreadsheets mapping out volume and intensity variation over time.  If you are not monitoring volume and intensity very closely, then you are missing the whole point of training.  I hate to say this, but training to improve athletic performance is not really rocket science.  When the athlete is tired, they rest, when they feel good, you train.

(Q): Do you believe that everyone should get stronger?  If so, what would be the best exercises to elicit overall strength gains?

(A):  The most important factor as a strength and conditioning coach is to make the athlete stronger, that’s why it’s called strength and conditioning.  Strength training takes place in the weight room and most conditioning actually takes place on the field.  The exercise that you use are mostly irrelevant.  The reason you use a squat to strength train the legs is that it is an easy exercise to use to get the needed loading to cause adaptation, meaning placing a lot of weight on your back. The concept of trying to mimic any on-field movement patterns in the weight room seems like an odd concept to me. From a biomechanical research standpoint, nothing you do in the weight room is anything like what an athlete does on the field.  Weight room training requires high levels of loading which causes adaptation of the neuromuscular system.  By that I mean muscles hypertrophy and the peripheral nervous system changes firing rates and neuromuscular junction capabilities.  Neither of these things are movement pattern specific.  If a muscle gets bigger or the peripheral nervous system activating this muscle can fire at a higher rate than the muscle can generate more force; it seems like some people are saying that these systems have a brain and know when they are performing a contracting during a golf swing versus a tennis serve versus the shot put, etc.

(Q): I have long held the belief that “core training” does little for the core musculature and it is refreshing to see that proven in scientific studies.  Does “core training”, i.e., stability ball, BOSU balls, have any place in a training program?

(A):  “Core training” is just a layman’s term. The term “core” is not used in the discipline of anatomy.  What I think they mean is “trunk” or “torso”.  The trunk is divided into the thorax, abdomen and pelvic region.  These muscles are a component of overall physical performance, but to indicate that they play some major role in athletic performance more than any other body part, I think seems a little odd.  The trunk has been a major area of focus in rehabilitation settings because of low back pain issues in patients, which is the number one reason for missed days at work in the country.  Most of the concepts in training the trunk have come from rehabilitation-related professions. I am not dismissing the very important aspect of trunk function.  Low pain back is a very difficult disability to deal with and can lead to a very low quality of life.  Unfortunately in rehabilitation, a lot of research has shown very few programs with long-term effectiveness for recovery from this debilitating condition.  Acute recovery has been achieved, but in the long-term, people with this condition continue to have lasting problems, even the rest of their life.  Permanent and continued focus on strengthening all parts of the body (legs, thorax, abdomen, pelvic region, etc.), I believe is the key to success.  The best way to do this is with structural exercises, not isolating one region or the other.  This is not my opinion, it is based on data.  A general exercise program (sit and stand [squats], push ups, medicine ball lifts, jogging on a bouncer, skipping rope) has been shown to be just as effective as motor control exercises (instruction and training by recruiting deep muscles of the spine and reduce activity of other muscles) and spinal manipulative therapy (joint mobilization or manipulation) in improving patient-specific functional scores and global perceived effect scores (typical measurements used in low back pain studies) after a 6 to 12 month time frame (Ferreira et al., 2007).

(Q): I recently heard you talk about FMS (Functional Movement Screening) and its usefulness in sports performance.  Tell us what studies have shown about this.

(A): There are many studies I could mention, but one in particular, showed no or actually an inverse relationship between FMS scores and athletic performance (Okada et al., 2011).  Our recent study just coming out in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research showed the same thing.  Absolutely no relationship between FMS score and jumping, running, etc.. I think the primary factor is that FMS does not have a measure of strength or power.

(Q): What exciting new projects are you are working on?

(A):  Our most recent studies have been focusing on mechanical efficiency in jumping and running.  This comes back to my interest in stretch-shortening cycle function.  This is of importance to especially repeated event athletes.  Like repeated jumping (basketball, volleyball, etc.) or long distance runners (1500m, 3000m,  marathon, etc.).  We have been attempting to use ultrasound to visualize muscle length changes and optic fibers to perform in vivo measurement of patellar tendon forces.  These are very difficult techniques and I have actually been working on them for the past 10 years trying to get them to work.  This information would show us how and why plyometric exercise improve performance by allowing athletes to maintain muscle length and maximize tendon length changes during jumping, thus improving jump height and mechanical efficiency during repeated jumping.  We have also had the opportunity to work with NASCAR pit crews in terms of testing them for strength and power capabilities for the development of training programs.  Next year we will be back to working on determining what loads maximize power output during human movements using loading and unloading.  The last topic is something I have been working on for quite some time.  This has implications for training loads for power training programs.  We also are working some more on examining instability training in the weight room and its effect on athletic performance.  I wanted to finish up by saying that I have “no dog in this race”.  I don’t want to sound indifferent but I actually care very little about what training programs practitioners use, it’s up to them.  My goal is simply to publish data concerning the findings of our studies on these topics. I would be happy to accept one form of training over any other.  It doesn’t matter to me what type of training works and what type of training doesn’t work. That’s not my job.  I just come up with scientific experiments to address hypotheses of interest of us.  But of course I always hope that the date eventually assists practitioners in making decisions about their training programs. Practitioners have the difficult job in trying to determine how they are actually going to train their athletes.  Thanks.

An incredible amount of information with implications for not only the athlete, but the active individual.  Please fee free to contact me if there is any questions.

Health and happiness!

November 1, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Interview with Okinyi Ayungo, CSCS

I have always had an appreciation for personal trainers and what they can do for the

Okinyi Ayungo, CSCS

Okinyi Ayungo, CSCS

individual in terms of overall health and well being.  I personally do some aspects of personal training as a coach. I had the opportunity to talk to a good friend of mine, Okinyi Ayungo, a rising young personal trainer, fitness educator and innovator (co-creator of the Functional Training Group Exclusive program) in the Maryland area who specializes in functional movement training.  Below is the e-mail interview:

(Me): Thanks for the interview.  First of all, tell everyone why you decided to become a personal trainer.  You obviously had many options in terms of employment.

(OA):  Thanks for giving me an opportunity to share with your readers.  I decided to become a personal trainer for two main reasons:  I love science and I want to help people.  Throughout most of my academic years, I was “told” (by parents, teachers, etc.) that I should consider going into medicine because I enjoyed the sciences.  However, I was always drawn to how the human body worked especially when it came to movement and sports.  In my quest to improve my own athletic interests, I began to learn as much as I could about the human body’s response to exercise.  Then, because I knew a lot about exercise, friends in college started asking me to design programs for them.  My first job was in biomedical research, but I also was a part-time personal trainer to help pay my student loans.  It was then that I realized how much of an impact I could have on people’s lives doing something that I truly enjoyed.  And the rest is history…

(Me):  Describe your philosophy of training.

(OA): I base the majority of my training on functional movments.  This means that we focus on improving the individual’s ability to perform some task (or series of tasks) outside of the gym that he/she needs or wants to become better at.  This could mean strengthening and stretching certain muscles to improve one’s tennis serve or golf swing; or it could mean improving strength and balance to be able to get off of the floor easier.  Whatever the goal of the individual, I always emphasize creating better, more efficient movement.  When people move better, they naturally become more active and get more joy out of life.  This makes them feel better.  When people feel better, then they are ready to make the positive behavioral changes that lead to looking better (the primary goal of the majority of personal training clients).  so you can say that my philosophy is:  Move Better, Feel Better, Look Better.

(Me): My big interest is in rehabilitation and prevention of injuries.  How do you accomplish this when working with your clients?

(OA): Proper screening and proper progression.  Every client does a health history questionnaire prior to any training.  If there are any unresolved injuries or pain, the individual must consult a medical professional before proceeding with training.  As part of my screening, I also conduct a Functional Movement Screen (FMS).  The FMS ranks and grades seven movement patterns that are important for normal function.  The FMS system identifies an individual’s limitations and asymmetries that could lead to injury.  This lets me know what corrective exercises need to be done before doing more aggressive training.

The other key to injury prevention is proper progression.  I start with mostly body weight movements to see how a client can control their own body in different positions before adding weight to a movement.  It’s always better to start off with a lighter resistance and progress in 5-10% increments once the exercise becomes comfortable for a given number of repetitions.  But the overarching premise is control.  If going up in weight compromises control of the movement, then that client is not ready to progress.

(Me): How do you incorporate stretching into your workouts?

(OA): Every workout begins with some dynamic flexibility (stretches that are only held for a few seconds in a rhythmic pattern) to warm-up the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the ranges of motion that we will be using during the workout.

For clients that need to focus on a particular flexibility issue, we will often stretch throughout the session.  For example, someone with short pectoralis (chest) muscles may do a brief stretch between each set of push-ups (or whatever chest exercise we are doing).

And at the end of the workout, we will do static stretching (holding the stretch for 20-30 seconds).  For clients with particular needs, we will do assisted contract-relax stretching or PNF stretching at the end of the workout.

(Me): Do you use a team approach, i.e., working with a massage therapist, chiropractor, etc., with some clients?

(OA): Yes, I have a physical therapist that I refer clients to that have musculoskeletal issues that are beyond my scope of practice.  For my clients whose main concern is weight loss or weight management, I have two nutritionists that I work with.  And for clients who are training for a specific goal that I do not have experience in (e.g. competitive bodybuilding) or may need/want other forms of specialized exercise (e.g. boxing), I will refer tham to someone in the network of other trainers and instructors with whom I have built relationships over the years.

(Me): Of course, there is a big debate about health care reform these days.  I firmly believe that prevention of these chronic diseases would be the best answer to reducing the health care costs.  Do you thing that you have a role in the the health care community?

(OA): Absolutely.  The way I see it, the money that someone spends on personal training now will prevent them from having a much more costly coronary bypass surgery or a hip replacement in the future.  Not only that, but I think that we are just now beginning to understand the mental health benefits of exercise.  A few weeks ago, one client of ten years said to me, “Thank you for saving my life.”  I did not realize it, but when she came to me to start personal training, she was still mourning the loss of her mother.  She credits regular exercise with preventing her decline into major depression.  The funny thing is that her stated primary goal was to “look more toned”.  But by MOVING better, she started FEELING better.  And now she is one of my best LOOKING clients as well.

(Me): Any future exciting plans or announcements for your company?

(OA): I am working on a comprehensive on-line resource for functional training.  It will be a website dedicated to fitness for real-life.  It will be ready in early 2010. I will keep you posted.  But in the meantime, you may go to to get a feel for the type of fitness that I work towards for each of my clients. Continue reading

October 11, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment