by Kate Della-Vedova
“J: The Pit opened back in 2001 in my double lock up garage in Mermaid beach.
My first client was a junior basketballer who was the brother of a girl that I’d gone to high school and uni with I basically said I would train him, I had no qualifications at all. Basically, I trained this kid for 5 bucks an hour for 4 hours a day over the summer school holidays in Australia. Fortunately enough for me this kid started getting some very very good results; got picked in the state basketball team and then the Australian basketball team. Then he received a college scholarship and that was my first client! And then from there-
KDV: By any chance was her surname Della-Vedova?
J: Ha, no, she wasn’t KDV! But that first client opened the door.
KDV: After you started the Pit when did you begin to develop an understanding of sport specific training and its application on field?
Sport specific training is actually a very interesting topic and a good text has just come out by Ian King and it is called transference of strength training and he talks about different joint angles and different lines of force, different bar speeds and different positions for exercise to improve the transference of what you do in the gym on field on court and in the sporting arena. A lot of people in our industry are so focused on numbers and getting them fitter and faster and stronger which is great, but they are actually doing this to the detriment of the athletes on field sporting performance.
KDV: So there is limited transferability essentially?
J: One of the common performance tests for AFL footballers is a 2km time trial..
KDV: See, I’m a weightlifter we only run if something’s on fire…
J: Correct! but with AFL and our discussion of transference, a lot of a AFL coaches I think that is the greatest predictor a 2 k time trial of an AFL player’s fitness and how well they can play the sport, however the challenge with this is just because you can run a fast 2k in a time trial does not mean you will have the necessary attributes to be an elite AFL player
KDV: Well running is a simple repetitive action; it doesn’t require an extreme amount of neural command to execute the task…
J: Correct as it’s cyclical in nature and it doesn’t require any change of direction or deceleration there’s no skill component which…
KDV: Especially if it’s on a treadmill…!
J: Define the qualities of an AFL footballer being rapid change of direction, evading an opponent, disposing of the ball, so as far as transference goes a 2k time trial might not be the best predictor of AFL performance.
KDV: And this metric is still currently used?
J: Absolutely for recruitment purposes and talent identification but the skill at the end of the day is being able to kick a ball, bearing in mind it’s not called “runball” it’s called football for a reason! I have conflicting data on this, because often your best athlete or your best footballer is not the guy who has the best times in a 2k time trial, beep test, highest vertical leap or 1RM in the gym. And that’s what they use to justify selection
KDV: This reminds me of Coach Wooden the most successful US college basketball coach in history, he always insisted that his were a team; referring back to your reference to athletes, their characteristics and their contributions, Coach Wooden was always had his team once a successful shot was scored that every player that had contributed to that success in layup acknowledged each other visually; reinforcing the idea that success was the sum of its parts; a team effort. So that analogy “no man is an island” when we are training for a team sport; separate to weightlifting which is definitely an individual sport your PR’s are the result of a coordinated effort with your coach and your entire support team – by the same token nobody gets to the top on their own.
J: Yeah and as you said there is no I in team, so your ability to integrate into the team environment and also know your teammates is critical. So, by focusing solidly on running training, separate to running as a skill, there’s a team I’m aware of that had the highest running rate, they focused exclusively on fitness. The fitness staff were saying they were the fittest that they have ever been, they’d won the first 4 games of the season but those first 4 games were the last they won. Again depending on what the athlete needs and also their sporting demands would dictate the physical qualities and physical requirements of strength , speed, endurance, flexibility agility and power based on their individual sport but our philosophy that we have is that typically the stronger you can get an athlete the more endurance and capacity they have.
KDV: Joey, define Strength
So how we explain it to people, I’ve had a world class swimmer that I’ve been working with that has a very big background in endurance based work but there is only so much volume you can do before you hit a wall with endurance based training so the next key for her development as an athlete is getting her stronger and what happens is that the analogy that I use is that say for example KDV that your bench press is 100 Kilos and we are going to do 50% of your bench press which is 50 kilos and you might get between 8 and 15 reps depending on your muscle fibre composition you might be able to get more reps out, what that MEANS is that if I’ve improved your bench press to say, 120 kg’s, if we go down to the sub-maximal amount you’re going to get more reps out so effectively I’ve gotten you more endurance by getting you stronger but as a runner or swimmer or rower, you’re going to use less motor units at sub maximal speed which has effectively given you better endurance because you’re stronger, that’s something we have been able to work with. Athletes don’t have to do more volume at their chosen sport; they’ve simply gotten stronger.
KDV: We did a lab at the BIHS measuring nerve conduction velocity during isometric holds last year where my being 36, twice the age of the other subjects that were mostly endurance athletes – I had an advantage because I had the capacity to get into a deep meditative state. The training that I advocate, I had the best and most efficient use of motor units. I knew, consciously the weight was there – and I’m bringing this up because there’s a mental component to strength beyond your 1RM or speed. For instance, when you get injured and it’s frustrating if you allow it as an athlete, your resilience is key. How does the Pit serve its athletes in that respect?
J: That’s a really good question and I’ve learned from a young age that if you just rely on one form of training you become limited and as I’ve been exposed to other practitioners from a variety of different fields; physiotherapy, osteopathy, functional medicine, bio-mechanic specialists, weightlifting, nutrition, supplementation specialists, blood chemistry specialists, functional neurologists, tremor specialists – there’s so many practitioners out there so what I’ve been able to do is align myself with world class experts in each of those areas.
KDV: And how did you find this network? Not through reading, obviously? Do they come to you organically sometimes?
J: It’s a bit of both really.
KDV: In my field, we’d call that morphic resonance!
J: People have popped up at exactly the right time when we’ve needed them; when the student is ready the master appears. The reason professional athletes come to us is because they know it’s not just me that’s on their team, it’s a whole panel of other experts that we refer out to – and a lot of trainers won’t refer out to others because they fear they’ll lose that athlete, where I’m of the opposite, if I can send my clients and athletes to someone that may serve them better in that particular area they’re more inclined to listen to me but at the end of the day it’s what’s best for the athlete, if you sincerely care for them and their results they’ll run through brick walls for you. They’ll trust you.
KDV: From my perspective if you have a body you’re an athlete, where you’re in the field of elite sports in the context of my work, being progressive and neurodegenerative disease, do you consider it important as the nation-wide statistics on neurodegeneration are exponentially increasing, when you get a new athlete how are you taking their neuronal health into consideration?
J: One of the modalities we’ve been looking at for the last 6 years is functional neurology, so what we could do with our athletes is we can assess their brain function through a whole range of testing, so we can see which parts of their brain are compromised, not saying they’re brain dead, just saying there’s parts of their brain that can be trained.
KDV: The brain is a muscle; it can be trained!
J: Correct, and that’s kind of the final frontier at the moment in sports performance, is that yeah everyone’s lifting weights and measuring nutrition – there’s very few people doing brain training, and we’ve got one of the best guys in the world and he’s been able to implement some of those assessment tools and taught myself and some of the physiotherapists we work with how to get their brains in better condition. We do basic assessments, then we’d refer out to this particular practitioner and he’s been able to provide individual brain training protocols with the athletes. Now, the athletes didn’t buy into it at the start but what we did explain was say, using football as an example, training footballers to mark a ball, the better your eye function is the better you can see the ball in flight and the quicker you can respond to that visual stimuli, that allows you to be a better athlete.
KDV: Your reaction time.
J: Yeah, the quicker you can get to the ball means you’re going to win; so that’s something is partly trainable in the gym, but you can train the brain. So we have a VOR chart over there we use, and as far as reducing sarcopenia and age related decrease of muscle mass or improving brain function there’s lots of good research of practical application of various exercises so if you keep performing exercises with slight variations it just builds more pathways in the brain. So, as you age, changing your training is important.”