"The Science of Strength and Conditioning: Dr. J. Fowles"
- STRENGTH & CONDITIONING PROFILE: Dr. Jonathon Fowles
Jonathan Fowles is an assistant professor at Acadia University
in the School of Kinesiology where he teaches Applied
Human Anatomy and Physiology, Fitness Programming and
Advanced Fitness Assessment and Training Methods. He also
pioneered the strength and conditioning program at McMaster
University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Hello Jonathan! I hope the beautiful East Coast of Canada
is treating you well. Why don't you start by describing
your academic current position?
I supervise honours undergraduate students in the areas
of advanced training and recuperative techniques and the
biochemical response to exercise. This department is very
'hands on' and into applied knowledge, so I am also quite
involved with training and testing the varsity teams here
- working closely with Football, Hockey, Basketball and
Rugby. I also consult with the National Sport Centre -
Atlantic and the National Coaching Institute - teaching
the task 1 & 2 Level 4/5 NCCP program modules.
Can you describe some studies or projects that you are
working on right now that are applicable to athletes?
I am working on three exciting projects, one is on advanced
training methods for hockey, one is on advanced recuperative
methods (cold-tub) after intense interval running, and
the other examining the regulation of transporter proteins
during chronic creatine supplementation in muscle. For
the first study, my honours student (Captain of the varsity
hockey team - Matt Price) and I have developed a hockey
skating simulator which simulates the exact number of
strides and time of a sprint from the end line to opposite
blue line. We have the ability to set different resistances
for overload on this "off-ice" simulator, and we are comparing
on-ice skating sprint time, speed and acceleration every
meter during a 30m sprint. The guys who have done the
training thus far really felt like it gave them that extra
'jump' in their sprint.
cold-tub study is with another honours student to determine
the acute affects of cold-tub on a subsequent bout of
intense exercise (i.e. whether it alleviates the delayed
fatigue response). I presented the transporter protein
(Na,K-ATPase) data at ACSM last summer and will be following
that study up with some more work in the area.
That definitely has a hardcore science edge. What is your
I completed my Ph.D. in exercise physiology at Waterloo
(working with Dr. Howie Green) and my Masters at McMaster
University (working with Dr. Digby Sale and Dr. Duncan
MacDougall) doing work on neuromuscular fatigue. I was
inspired to start the educational process by Dr. Howie
Wenger (exercise physiologist for the St. Louis Blues)
at the University of Victoria. I also am a CSCS and PFLC
(Professional Fitness and Lifestyle Consultant offered
by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology).
Jonathon, you helped set up a strength and conditioning
program at McMaster University and then you went on to
do the same at the University of Waterloo. Can you describe
these to the readers?
When I was at McMaster, I was asked by the athletic director
to develop a strength & conditioning program for the
varsity athletes. Within a year and a half, I was working
with more than 10 teams and 200+ athletes. It was a great
initiative that was subsequently taken over by some guy
named Craig Ballantyne...
my experience at Mac, I went to the athletic director
at Waterloo and said that I wanted to develop a strength
& conditioning program there. Within a year or two
I was also working with more than 10 teams and 250 athletes.
In the third and fourth years of the program at Waterloo,
we got more into the individualized testing and training,
but I was training and educating coaches to be able to
supervise the programs on their own once I was gone.
That sounds great, but can you identify any weaknesses
or obstacles facing strength and conditioning programs
I would say the most difficult thing about developing
these programs at Canadian Universities, is the lack of
resources (monetary, equipment) available to support the
programs. At both Mac and Waterloo, I was one person working
(in my 'spare' time) with more than 10 teams. That means
that I had limited contact time with any one team. Compare
that to schools in the USA where you might have 5-8 FULL
TIME, paid strength coaches just with the football team.
is one thing to set programs and testing goals with athletes,
but working with them one-on-one doing specialized agility,
power, speed & strength, is really where the gains
go to the next level. Canadian Universities just don't
have the budget to make it a priority, so many times it
is left to volunteers, that may or may not have the training
and expertise required. I have tried to correct this here
at Acadia, where we have set up a specialization in personal
training and qualified students are put on practicums
to work with the teams. This is part of their work towards
getting certified as PFLC's and CSCS's that I supervise.
Great to hear you are making a difference in this area.
Clearly everyone will benefit when properly educated coaches
are training the athletes. What is your training philosophy?
My philosophy is simply "To train effectively". That means
understanding the science of training - because there
is no substitute for sound, intelligent training - but
your body and how it reacts to training. Not everyone
is the same and therefore not everyone can do the programs
published in Sports Illustrated or Muscular Development
and expect the same results.
Can you give the reader some tips for becoming a better
To become a better athlete they should become rounded.
Understand your sport, your body and the preparations
required to be at the top of your game. This is a holistic
that covers everything from the relative importance of
resistance training, speed or other training, with a balance
of recovery, sleep, and sport psychology. A lot of times
a coach will take a well-rounded athlete over one that
is highly skilled, because the well rounded athlete is
adaptable to different situations and is more consistent
throughout the year - someone you can count on when the
going gets tough in playoffs.
Jonathon, any special tips you want to give to female
athletes? Do you observe any training differences between
the two genders?
One thing I have noticed, particularly at the varsity
level with female athletes, is that can push themselves
a bit more in the weight room than what they think. There
seems to be a stigma attached with the weight room for
women, and many times, the female athletes don't really
realize how strong they are! I remember one time I was
working with a volleyball player who regularly trained
3 x 10 with 95 lbs on the squat rack, because "that's
all she thought she could do". I spotted her as she worked
up to 8 reps with 185 lbs! Now, I don't recommend throwing
on as much weight as you can and going for it, but within
a properly supervised program, female athletes can develop
significant gains in strength, if they work at improving,
by stepping up the weights when things get a little easier.
What are some advanced techniques you are using?
In the weight room I use pyramids to heavy tri-sets (rest-pause)
for major muscle mass gains. This always seems to work
with my clients to improve mass and strength. It's a major
overload to the muscle and requires time for recuperative
so is done in the early off-season in sports that require
a little more size and strength.
Can you describe that a little more please?
Basically the athlete performs 4 sets of 12, 10, 8, and
6 reps, with appropriate rest (2-3 minutes) between each
set, and pyramiding up in weight. Then after the pyramid,
the weight that was done for 6 reps is lifted in a tri-set,
using rest-pause. You do the weight for a set (usually
around 6 reps) then wait 30 seconds, then lift again (~4-5
reps), rest for another 30 seconds and try one more set
(~3-4 reps). There is a lot of physiology to explain why
this works, but basically its like getting ~14 reps at
a weight you could normally only do 6 times = HUGE OVERLOAD.
is done with one primary exercise per bodypart, per workout.
Again, it is tough work, so you have to have about 6-12
months of training under your belt to get any results.
You can only do this for about one month to 6 weeks before
you start overtraining, so then you back off to less sets
and see your strength jump!!
the more athletically focused training, I use complex
(resistance + plyometrics) supersets. I find it effective
and efficient. The jury is out as to whether you get added
benefit over combined resistance and plyometrics, but
the benefit is that the athletes get into it, and get
their plyometric work done in the gym - they don't have
to do a separate
work out for it. There are a lot of details about how,
when, what exercises to do, far more than I could cover
in this interview - but I did present most of this information
to the NSCA sport specific conference for football in
also have used cold-tub for advanced recuperation following
intense training. Once again, the jury is out as to the
scientific proof, but anecdotally, it works for many athletes,
especially during training camp. I am involved in a number
of research projects to investigate its effectiveness.
Awesome. So what type of clients do you use your training
Right now I work mostly with university athletes - mostly
because I enjoy that group. They are keen to learn and
improve and of course, workout in the same building. I
also consult with national level and professional athletes,
and I really enjoy the challenge at the highest levels
of performance to get that little bit more.
have worked with the National Swim Team, Field hockey
team and some coaches and athletes Track & Field and
Rugby. Professionally I have worked with athletes in the
CFL, NHL, NFL and some professional tri-athletes and soccer
What are some of your personal achievements as an athlete
Well, you know the old saying - those that can't do, coach.
I was always good at most sports, but never exceptional
at anything. Except for being able to understand the athlete,
the science, and the training, and how it all fits together
to make it work in a particular sport. I would say my
biggest personal achievements occur when one of the athletes
I work with comes up to me and says, "You helped me to
be a better athlete." And that's what
gets me excited to figure out new ways to do an even better
Awesome. And what are 3 of your top tips for building
) See above - rest pause tri-sets. These are very effective.
) Get away from the 1 body part per day thing. Many people
are brainwashed into this philosophy popularized by the
bodybuilders in muscle magazines that can train this way
because they are on the juice. To build muscle effectively
and intelligently, you need to have intense workouts that
activate a sufficient muscle mass to encourage a hormonal
response to support growth at the site of stress. This
usually means combining muscle groups - such as back-chest,
legs-shoulders, or back-tris, chest-bis, legs-shoulders
Pre-and post-workout nutrition. This is one of the very
few 'ergogenic' muscle
aids that is scientifically proven to increase the protein
synthetic response following a workout. I always say choose
food first, but if there was ever a time for a protein
shake, it is within the first 15 minutes after a workout.
What are your goals?
To be a true kinesiologist. I want to be someone who understands
the science and is
exploring the edge of understanding by conducting research,
but has the practical knowledge to work with the 'people
on the front line' who use the information (athletes,
coaches, layperson with health problem etc). I would like
to stay involved in training at the varsity and elite
level and manage a career scientifically at the same time.
and write a book on what I've learned. I've had it in
the back of my mind for about 10 years, and finally got
some publishers interested. The topic would be "applying
sports conditioning concepts to your overall concept of
health". Similar to the 'complete' athlete idea I talked
Before we conclude, can you describe some common training
See 1 body part per day argument. Another is simply bad
nutrition. Reliance on Gatorade and drinks - people need
food to get all the micronutrients and antioxidants and
all the other wonderful things we know about how important
it is to have variety and balance in a diet.
regards to the recent - 'stabilization - balance' craze,
so many people are going so overboard with the balance
boards and all the hot gimmicks, that people have strayed
from getting really sound gains in the gym. I think that
including these things is great, but you really need a
foundation of strength to get something out it.
Thank you so much for your time Dr. Fowles. For any students
considering undergraduate degrees in Kinesiology in addition
to experience working with elite athletes, CB ATHLETICS
highly recommends Acadia University, simply because they
have such a passionate, enthusiastic and knowledgeable
guy like Jonathon Fowles on their faculty.