• "Training Elite Athletes: An Interview with Mike Gough, CSCS"
  • "Golf: Your Clubs are Only as Good as Your Physical Conditioning"

Interview with Mike Gough: Elite Speed Development Coach

Mike Gough, CSCS, is a strength and conditioning coach that specializes in preparing athletes for the NFL combine and for pro play in the NHL and NFL. Mike has spent time with the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Raptors and currently has two websites devoted to strength and conditioning for the elite athlete: www.procombinetraining.com and www.optperformance.com. We caught up with Mike (who is very busy training football players for pro tryouts) and asked him about his training secrets for speed and agility development.

CB: Mike, let's start with your training sessions. What do you do first in a session: Starts/Accelerations or explosive "jump training"?

MG: I believe in performing starts and acceleration training before any jump/plyometrics are performed. There is a greater demand on the neuromuscular system for speed work such that it must be performed when the athlete is fresh. If the athlete is fatigued when speed work is done, speed enhancement will diminish and technique will be compromised.

CB: Can you briefly outline a speed-agility session for beginners?

MG: I would start a beginner session with some light activity to get the muscles warm. I then proceed to a functional/dynamic warm-up to turn on the muscles for activity. Examples of some of the warm-up drills I use are high knees, form running, butt kicks, opposite arm/leg kicks to eye level, carioca, and low side-shuffles. We then proceed to footspeed drills on the quick-foot ladder to turn on the neuromuscular system. This also works on body awareness and co-ordination.

I then like to work on first step quickness and linear acceleration. For beginners, the Lean-Fall-Run exercise is a great teacher of both body lean and taking the first step. Tennis ball drops, where the athlete has to catch the ball before the second bounce, are also a fun way to train these parameters.

Some tempo runs of 40 - 60 yards would follow so that we can target running mechanics: arm action, leg drive, body lean, stride frequency and stride length.

I like to include multi-directional agility drills to get the athlete to read and react. This can be done through verbal and visual cues. In these, we focus on short, reactive, changes of direction. I truly believe that the athlete has to learn the concept of deceleration to be agile and reactive in their chosen sport. I like to focus on decelerating into a change of directing, then accelerating out of the cut at full speed such that the athlete is under control the whole time.

I would finish the session with some dynamic core strength and stability work, focusing on the abdominals and low back. Following would be a cool down and light stretching.

CB: That's definitely a thorough session. I can see why your athletes achieve great results. What would you add to that session after you have worked with that athlete for 4-6 weeks?

MG: Once the athlete masters some fundamental concepts of speed and agility training I implement some devices to overload the athlete. I use resisted and overspeed devices such as sprint cords, sleds, parachutes, etc. Overspeed and resisted-running techniques add more intensity to the workout and demand more from the athlete. Also, I incorporate more advanced footspeed drills to challenge the athlete.

CB: Mike, you have a lot of experience in preparing elite hockey players for high levels of competition. In your experience, what weakness do most hockey players have and how do you address these weaknesses in training?

MG: I think that hockey players are lacking in the areas of core strength, footspeed, and nutrition. Often young players don't understand the benefit of a strong and stable core. By strengthening the abdominals and low back they can enhance their speed.

With young players especially, many have trouble getting the brain to get the feet moving at the speed desired. Body awareness, co-ordination and footspeed all work together to enhance the firing neuromuscular system.

Finally, nutrition is an area that athletes often overlook. Athletes often eat foods that are not fuelling them properly for competition. Each athlete has to be educated on the foods the body needs to perform at a high level.

CB: Okay, now let's talk about the general strengths of successful hockey players. What do they have that less successful players are missing?

MG: Many more hockey players are realizing that hockey is an anaerobic sport and are focusing their training in that direction to meet the demands of the game. I think that those athletes that successfully train the anaerobic system to perform at high levels without fatigue and have the ability to recover faster from repeated sprints will outperform the competition in the game's late stages.

CB: Can you make any comments about the strengths and weaknesses of the football players that you train?

MG: I think that many football players are too focused on strength development and lack the functional movement skills to be able to read and react in the shortest time possible with explosive power. I see that a lot from graduating seniors that leave their college program. Too often these colleges focus only on the squat, bench and clean. Many of these athletes lack the fundamentals to athleticism: acceleration, agility and movement skills and have just got by on natural ability.

CB: Mike, as always, thank you for your time and insight. We look forward to reading more about your success and your training programs on your websites. CB Athletics recommends Mike's training manuals for Combine Preparation and his individualized training programs for athletes.

Physical Conditioning for Golf

Physical conditioning will increase the distance of your shots, reduce your score, and eliminate the nagging injuries associated with playing "too much" golf. In the era of Tiger Woods, there is no doubt that a golfer is an athlete. It is believed that Tiger makes shots that no one else can because of his physical strength. But while millions upon millions of golfers have emulated Tiger's clothing and equipment, how many have followed his lead and strengthened their body for golf?

Think for a moment about the money you spend on clubs, memberships, friendly wagers, and golf lessons. Are you getting your money's worth? The value of your equipment or golf pro is not being questioned, but the value of the operating unit - your body - needs to be evaluated. First rate equipment will always be limited by second rate conditioning.

The good news is that a small investment (less than the cost of your custom driver) can help you identify the weak links in your physical conditioning and will strengthen your body in preparation for the season. You owe it to yourself to get the most out of your efforts and expensive equipment. A good program can add yards to your drive and should increase the effectiveness of both your golf clubs and golf lessons.

Think about this: If you have played golf for 3 years then you have taken at least 3840 explosive swings on the course:
40 wood & long-iron shots per round
2 rounds per week
16 weeks in a season
3 seasons
= 3840 explosive swings!

Big deal, you say? Where's the problem? The problem is you have taken almost 4000 muscle contractions in one direction only. This may overdevelop some muscles at the expense of others. Imagine doing 4000 contractions with only your right arm - think there might be differences in muscle size and strength between your left and right arms?

Technically, you have overtrained some muscles for three years, while others have been completely neglected. Compounding your physical imperfections are the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle (as is the case for most golfers) and the individual oddities that you may have been born with (flat feet, limb length differences, poor co-ordination, etc.). Without physical conditioning, it's unlikely that you will be playing at an optimal level. All of these factors contribute to your need for a professional assessment - a small investment in time and money that can make a world of difference in your game. Physical conditioning is no less important than golf lessons.

Step 1 - Get a thorough physical assessment from a qualified professional to identify your muscle weaknesses and flexibility. You may visit a physical therapist, an experienced personal trainer, an athletic therapist, or other movement specialist - ask around for a recommendation. Costs will vary, but the information you will extract from this session will pay for itself at the year-end club championship!

In Toronto, contact Totum Life Sciences and inquire about assessments and their personal training services www.totum.ca. I am extremely impressed by their thorough approach and attention to detail. For other referrals throughout North America, email cb@cbathletics.com.

If you need to lose excess body fat, then you need to use the Executive Lifestyle Manual or Beginner's Guide to Fat Loss in your preparation. These manuals are available for both men and women through www.cbathletics.com & www.workoutmanuals.com.

It is mandatory that you have an assessment and address any injuries, imbalances, inflexibility, or other concerns before you move on with a strength and conditioning program. The right professional will help you address the cause of injury, rather than just treating the symptoms. Low-back pain is also extremely prevalent in golfers. If you have low-back pain, you must see your doctor and have them refer you to the appropriate professional. Fix your lower back before you start swinging your golf club at speeds of up to 90-100 miles per hour!

You may also wish to discuss pre-game preparation with your movement therapist or Strength and Conditioning Coach. Like sprinting, golf is an explosive sport and demands thorough preparation to prepare their muscles for high-velocity movements. Ask a certified trainer to take you through a warm-up that involves dynamic movements for the upper body and lower body. This is termed "dynamic flexibility" and is designed to increase range of motion and to warm-up the muscles specific to the movement.

Your pre-game preparations should begin immediately following your last round! Take advantage of any opportunity you have to enhance recovery and do some more dynamic flexibility. Does your club have a massage therapist? If so, take advantage! Do you have injuries that require immediate ice and other recovery measures? Take the opportunity to ask for instructions on recovery at your initial assessment.

From the results of your professional assessment, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) will be able to put together a program for you. The program should begin with a restoration of function followed by training to increase strength and eventually will go on to help you develop power.

An area that is going to be a weak spot in most golfers is the strength and endurance of the abdominal and low-back muscles. Some experts suggest that increasing low-back endurance can help reduce back problems. A golfer will also want to build endurance so that they can maintain good posture in their golf stance over an 18-hole match. Endurance in the abs and lower back could have profound effects on your game's consistency.

Just like your golf lessons, the training program that you need is likely to be very different from the program required by your golf partner, your wife, or the guy you are chasing for the club championship. That is why you need to invest in a strength coach to set you up with a training program.

Priority training areas for both advanced and recreational golfers include the arms, shoulder-complex, lower back, abdominals, and obliques. This doesn't mean you should grab the local bodybuilder's routine for arm curls and sit-ups. Your program should be much more targeted than that. Here are some exercises that you should discuss with your strength coach to include in your training program:

    Basic exercises to strengthen the abdominal and lower-back muscles.
  • Crunch (the most basic and beginner abdominal exercise)
  • Swiss Ball Crunch
  • Swiss Ball Twist Crunch
  • Medicine Ball Woodchoppers
  • Cable Twist Crunch
  • Back Extension
  • Supermans

    Exercises that will help you develop total-body strength:
  • Squat
  • Lateral Step-up
  • Reverse Lunge
  • Single-Arm DB Row
  • Wide-Grip Seated Row
  • Standing Cable Chest Press with Rotation
  • One-arm Elevated Push-up
  • Bent Press
  • Rotator Cuff Muscles
  • Grip strength exercises

Don't use all of these exercises in the same session. This is merely a list of exercises that you and your trainer may want to include in your conditioning program. If you have any questions about any particular exercise, just send an email to cb@cbathletics.com. Many of these exercises are reviewed on www.cbathletics.com.

With the right program, you can become stronger, more flexible, fitter, and have more power than your opposition. A well-conditioned golfer will also have that "psychological advantage" being at the "top" of their game and has a greater chance of setting personal bests. Good luck!


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