Working With Professional Athletes

Ask any qualifying class of personal trainers or strength coaches what their dream job is, and there’s a fair chance that well over half will say they want to train professional athletes  – whilst its fantastic that improving human performance still comes out as a popular ambition in the days of quick fix insta fame – I think its worth visiting what working with athletes in the private sector actually requires.

Over the past 20 years I have been fortunate enough to have worked with a multitude of World and Olympic champions across a wide range of sports – as well as the leading stage performers for Broadway and the West End (who I consider 100% to be professional athletes).   This has meant collaborating and communicating with an even wider range of sports coaches, choreographers, producers and medical professionals.


The role of the Strength and Conditioning Coach, is to support the role of the Head Coach. Picture credit: ITV


I can now comfortably summarise that the role of the independent S&C coach is not to make some better at football / dancing/ golf / boxing / cycling /  whatever the sport of choice may be!

The role of the S&C coach is to allow the athlete to be on the field for longer, so that their coach can make them better at football /dancing /golf / boxing / cycling…

As much as we in the world of fitness, strength and conditioning love statistics and performance metrics,  and a handful of athletes and performers that you come across may also care about them.   Ultimately our job is to allow  the coaches, choreographers and producers to do theirs, by having their athletes and performers ready and available when they need them.

One of the most common mistakes that I see when trainers first get the opportunity to work with people who’s body is their livelihood  – is to fall into the trap of trying to show them how hard they can work them, and how much harder they can push them than their previous trainer (or indeed how hard they can push themselves).  Now whilst there is a time and a place for pushing the envelope on effort, work rate and intensity,  that time is not when the athlete or performer also has to perform!

When we work with athletes in season, or performers on a run of shows  – our role is to prescribe the minimum effective dose.  Sending them back to practice, rehearse,  play or perform when they’re sore (or even worse, injured) is a sure fire way of making sure they never get sent to you again!

We know that progressive overload is important,  and we probably should know that constantly pushing the boundaries of load and volume will hit a ceiling that we will either plateau at, or push against until something breaks.



We therefore need to have some other tools in our toolbox to create progressive overload, improve efficiency and create adaptation.

Progressing movement involves working at a consistent load of volume, but progressing the mechanics of the movement pattern – creating more of a neurological and neuromechnical demand.  The most straight forward way of achieving this is to remove external reference points, or move the person (and the movement) further away from the floor or other objects of support.

This video clip shows mechanical and neurological progressions of a lateral lunge pattern with Chelsea striker George Nunn – the goal was to improve his performance in that movement pattern.  Simply giving him more weight to move would have increased his ability to produce force in that direction, however, it also would have left him tired and sore and underperforming on the training pitch.  What we can see here are progressions that improve movement efficiency and therefore performance,  but also have minimal risk to the athlete, and don’t substantially detract from ability to perform his primary role, playing football!



Understanding how to progress and regress movement is probably the most important technical skill a trainer can learn if they want to work with athletes, performers, or anyone else who’s livelihood depends upon their ability to move their body.


If you want to learn more about assessing, coaching and programming myself and Tony Gentilcore are running our Strategic Strength workshop at BLK BOX Headquarters in Belfast NI on 3rd-4th October.  Click here to sign up.


If you can’t make that, we have both contributed to the Complete Trainers Toolbox, 17 hours of CPD content assembled by 9 of the Worlds leading coaches, trainers and medical practitioners.  Click here to check it out 


2020-08-13T15:55:51+00:00August 10th, 2020|0 Comments

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