Joel Jamieson is considered one of the best physical preparation coaches, regardless of sport, in the world. Joel has worked with all levels of athletes, from Division I, NFL, MLS, NHL, NBA, and even the Olympics. Before his current position with Dream MMA, Joel served as the Director of Strength and Conditioning for Pride FC. He is the owner and operator of a private training facility in Seattle, Washington. Joel also founded 8weeksout.com, a rich resource dedicated to bringing the truth about physical preparation without all of the B.S.
DR: Joel, let’s get right into this: you’ve been around the block, so to speak, from training college level athletes, professionals, and now, fighters in the private sector. What are some of the biggest differences you see at each level, either in terms of coaching, the players’ mentality, etc…?
JJ: There’s definitely a lot of differences in all aspects as you move up the ladder from youth athletics all the way up to the pros. I think probably the biggest difference is really when you move from amateur to professional because now it’s much more than a game, it’s a job, and any time money enters the equation, often in the millions of dollars, it changes everything. It isn’t about just having fun with your teammates anymore, it’s about making money.
I’d say that largely because of this, at the top of the pro sports, guys are much more cautious in their training and their approach becomes much more focused on just staying healthy and maintaining. Nobody wants to squat heavy and/or do heavier work that may carry a greater risk of injury with it. They can’t afford to risk getting hurt in training as it could cost them their jobs and millions of dollars. I don’t necessarily agree with this approach, but by and large this is what I’ve seen in most of the pro team sports at least.
The younger guys, from high school to college, haven’t made it yet and they’re hungry and willing to work their asses off to try to get to the next level. Once the guys are at the top, however, there is less of an emphasis on training as hard as possible and it’s not uncommon to see top pros take several months off without training at all. It may seem backwards, but the younger guys lower down the ladder definitely tend to train harder and are more focused on getting to the top, but once guys actually get there, they’re usually content to just do the minimum that it takes to stay there. There are definitely exceptions to this, however, and there definitely are guys at the top who work their asses off day in and day out and they usually end up being the ones with the longest and most successful careers.
DR: You’ve garnered a reputation as being very knowledgeable when it comes to energy system development (among other things). Have you always had a keen interest in conditioning or was it something you began to appreciate as you trained more and more athletes?
JJ: To be honest, conditioning was a total mystery to me about ten years ago. My background was mostly in football and strength/power sports and I really had no idea what conditioning was or how to improve it. As an athlete myself, my conditioning was never a strong point either so it’s a bit ironic that I’ve become known as the “conditioning guy” nowadays.
The thing that changed it all for me was working with mixed martial artists and trying the sport myself. I quickly learned that all the strength and power in the world doesn’t do much good if you run out of gas. I began studying everything I could on conditioning and energy systems and completely immersed myself in the subject. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn and the more I read and tried out various methods with athletes I was training. With a sport like MMA, it’s pretty obvious if a guy is in good shape or not so you can easily measure the results of your conditioning efforts.
Had I never started training fighters, I’d probably still be in the dark about conditioning, but fortunately I was able to get a better idea of the big picture of athletic performance because if I trained a guy and he gassed out in the fight, the blame would have rightly been on me, so it really forced me to quickly figure out what conditioning is really all about and how to improve it.
DR: You’re very well read when it comes to research. I know I asked you several times during my first semester in graduate school for help on finding data on aerobic training. When it comes to research, how do you walk the line between taking what happens in a controlled setting and applying it to the field?
JJ: That’s a great question because I think far too often coaches abuse research by extrapolating it way beyond its original implications. It’s important for anyone reading research to understand that unless you have a huge body of literature all saying the same thing very clearly, one study doesn’t mean a whole lot and you have to read the full text of the study to really get a feel for what was done and what it means.
Personally, I read as much research as possible, but I always take the conditions of the study into account and look for other research on the same subject before coming to any conclusions or trying to extract the information into the real world setting. The unfortunate truth is that a lot of research is done on low level athletes or people without much training history and almost all training research is of a short duration. When you’re only studying something for 6-8 weeks, it can be easy for the big picture to get distorted so it’s very important to always understand the context of the study before jumping to conclusions.
I’d say the best advice I can give to others is to always read the full text of the study whenever possible, not just the abstract, and read as much research on the topic as possible. Also be careful not to extrapolate beyond the conclusions of the study, which are usually very conditionally stated for a reason. There’s a ton of great research out there, but often times you have to sort through a lot of stuff that doesn’t really apply or that may not have been very well done to find what you’re looking for so looking through the research definitely takes patience and time.
DR: Recently I’ve been thinking constantly of two areas that I believe are often overlooked when training athletes: the psychological edge and nutritional habits. Any thoughts?
JJ: I think most athletes understand the value of proper nutrition, but a lot of them just don’t take the time to follow through and eat right like they know they should. There’s plenty of good books and good information on how athletes should be eating, so I don’t think there is really any excuse for eating poorly, but a lot of coaches also fail to emphasize it as much as they should because they themselves often eat very poorly as well and it starts from the top down. There’s no doubt that a lot of athletes could improve their recovery and overall performance simply by eating better.
As far as the psychological factor, this is definitely another overlooked area that has a great impact on performance, but, unlike nutrition, there’s not a ton of great information on how athletes can approach the mental aspect of training and performance. In my own experience, I think the mental toughness or attitude of athletes is definitely trained fairly early on in life when they are youth athletes and it’s much harder to develop later on in life.
The most successful athletes I’ve worked with have just always had the right mindset and psychological makeup from the start. I don’t think I did anything to develop it really. The real key I think is how the parents treat the athlete as a child and the coaches that the athlete has early on. These two things will probably have a greater impact on their psychological profile and mental toughness later on in the athlete’s career than anything else.
DR: Joel, the Omegawave is clearly an impressive piece of equipment for training athletes. Many coaches, however, can’t logistically perform tests on all of their athletes on a daily or weekly basis. What are methods you would recommend for a coach who doesn’t have access to an Omegawave when determining the readiness of his or her athletes?
JJ: I’d say you just have to use whatever you can and even charting things like resting heart rate and paying attention to training weights and simple strength/power tests along with how the athletes feel can provide quite a lot of information. Far too often coaches just write out a program and then treat it like it’s set in stone rather than measuring and monitoring and making changes as they go along. It’s certainly more challenging in a large team setting than in a private setting like the one I’m in, but there’s always something that can be done.
If nothing else, I’d measure morning resting heart rate daily along with weekly vertical jump and broad jump tests, and then look at the athlete’s training log to see if they are progressing as they should be. You could also give the athlete’s a monthly questionnaire and ask how they’re feeling, sleep habits, motivation levels, energy levels, etc. Taken as a whole, you can definitely get a lot of how well an athlete is responding to a program and it really doesn’t take as much time as a lot of people might think if a system is in place to collect and track the info.
DR: Thank you for the interview, Joel, it’s been a pleasure. On a final note, I know people often ask about your library and what you read to get ahead. When you’re not reading volumes of research or poring over textbooks, what do you read that’s not related to human performance?
JJ: Good question. I haven’t had time to read much else in a while, but I tend to mostly read business related materials. I also like politics andeconomics, so I try to stay pretty current on general world affairs. There’s so much information out there and with the internet it’s so much easier to find these days that it’s never easy to pick and choose what I have time to read and what I don’t, but lately I’ve been writing more than I’ve been reading anyway.
Joel can be reached through his website, 8weeksout.com
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