Interview with Mike Boyle
There are four coaches that were highly influential on my physical preparation philosophy and practice. The first one that actually started my whole journey was late Charlie Francis. Joe Kenn and Dan Baker come next. Then there is Mike Boyle. Mike was the only one of the four ‘horsemen’ that I have actually met in person and interned with/under in the summer 2010 at his state-of-the-art and award winning facility in Woburn, Massachusetts.
Mike’s approach to physical preparation integrated and critically analyzed ideas from multiple areas spanning weightlifting, powerlifting, bodybuilding, physical therapy, functional anatomy, track and field and others into one-of-a-kind athletic approach to strength training and conditioning. He was and continues to be true leader in this process – critically ‘chewing’ a lot of data, ideas, principles, proofs and studies into actionable training philosophy. His approach tends to evolve as the evidence (both practical and scientific) emerges.
I took the opportunity to interview Mike and pick his brain on latest advances in physical preparation.
Mladen: Mike thanks for taking your time to do this interview. I am pretty much sure that all of my readers already know who you are and are familiar with your work and philosophy, but anyway let’s start with a short introduction – who you are, where do you come from, what are you doing at the moment and what are your next projects and plans?
Mike: I’m a Boston based strength and conditioning coach, facility owner, writer, speaker, website owner/ operator, husband and father. For the past two years I have served as a strength and conditioning coach/ consultant to the Boston Red Sox in Major League Baseball as well as headed up a team of strength and conditioning coaches helping to prepare the US Women’s Olympic Ice Hockey team for the Sochi Olympics.
In addition, I am the co-owner ( with Anthony Renna of StrengthCoach Podcast Fame) and content editor of StrengthCoach.com . The site in my view is the best site on the internet for Strength and Conditioning info. In fact, I need to get you to write me some articles.
Mladen: Your last publication was Advances in Functional Training, which was published in 2010. Can you share with the readers what did evolve in your philosophy since then? Do you plan any further publications soon?
Mike: I think the philosophy will always evolve. We ( myself and my fellow coaches) are always searching for the Holy Grail, the perfect program that produces amazing results with zero injuries. I think the big evolution is the refining of concepts. Further understanding things like bilateral deficit, breathing, and rolling. The key is to stay on top of new concepts and experiment in ways that don’t detract from results. I just finished a new book, Functional Coaching Reader. That is a collection of everything I have written since Advances was published. Most of it was written for StrengthCoach.com ( a membership site) so I think that there are lots more readers out there.
Mladen: Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning has been voted as the best gym in the States by Men’s Health. Besides running a successful performance facility and business, you have also been head strength and conditioning coach for the Boston University (BU), strength and conditioning coach for BU Men’s Hockey team and recently named RED SOX strength and conditioning consultant. In your experience, what are the similarities and differences between coaching privately in the facility, coaching in collegiate settings and coaching in a pro club?
Mike: There are some big distinctions. In a private facility people pay you to help them. They are customers and should be treated as such. In a private business, you have a mix of children, adults and young adults.
In a collegiate setting, the university employs you and, you have a boss ( the group of head coaches). College athletes have less choice and can be pushed harder. Much different.
In the professional world you have another animal all together. Professional athletes are generally talented and wealthy and can choose to train or not to train. There is not the “captive audience” factor that is present in American college sports. Professional athletes need to want to train so you are “selling “ more in the pros. In addition, in the pros safety is a huge factor ( not that it shouldn’t be in every situation). If you get a multi-million dollar player hurt you could quickly be unemployed.
Mladen: In the strength and conditioning field you have been both hated and worshiped. I do believe, as Churchill said, that if you stood up for something sometimes in your life you will definitely have enemies. You have been notorious for changing your training philosophies and dropping certain exercises every now and then, which probably annoys some hard-core coaches. Can you please expand on these issues and can you share what happened with NSCA?
Mike: I think there are a lot of layers in this question. I have always said that goal 1 was not to get hurt training. Over the years we found that the primary source of our weight room injuries could be traced to bilateral squats. These were not traumatic injuries but, gradual overuse. We began to experiment, first with switching to front squats ( over 10 years ago), and then with stopping bilateral squats all together in favor of what we called a Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat. In the past five years we have seen athletes develop tremendous singe leg strength and, stay injury free. This “pisses off” the traditional powerlifter, bodybuilder, Olympic lift crowd that has dominated the strength and conditioning world for so long.
The issue with the NSCA was made out to be about science, but it was really petty politics and jealousy. Unfortunately, the NSCA elects a president who gets to run the NSCA as he or she sees fit. Some people use that power to deal with people they perceive as enemies. I guess I was an enemy.
Mladen: When I was interning with you in 2010 we had our own disagreements, which is of course normal – and as you said back them, with time I might come to similar/same conclusions, especially in the similar context. I think you were definitely right regarding that. One thing that bugged me back than was that before commencing with the Summer program, clients fill the goal sheet – and yet they are put on the same cookie-cutter program (which is by the way better than 90% of ‘individualized’ programs anyway). I understand the problems with running individualized programs with such a large amount of athletes in & out coming through the day (~500), but I don’t understand why goal setting. Can you please explain this discrepancy?
Mike: The key with goal setting is to introduce the process. It’s not so much about the particular goals as, introducing the mindset of having goals and working toward them. We want to have a mental component to our program as well as a physical component and goal setting starts that off.
Mladen: You have been favoring HIT conditioning over lower intensity – higher duration one. Is that related more to context/administrative issues within the facility (no time) or genuine opinion? What is your current opinion and how it is being implemented taking into account recent research (e.g. polarized distribution in endurance training)?
Mike: I think both. I have always said that people need to work harder, not longer. I have also always been very influenced by the early work of Charlie Francis and Charlie was very clear about avoiding aerobic work with sprinters. In the simplest sense we are trying to develop sprinters, not marathoners. Team sports in every part of the world are dominated by speed, not fitness. In most sports training program we see too much fitness emphasis with very little sped work. We do the opposite.
Mladen: How do you fight with the recent growth of CrossFit facilities? What are your thoughts on this trend? Do you think CrossFit is the best way to train for actual CrossFit competitions?
Mike: We don’t fight with Crossfit. I simply make my opinion know. I feel as an “expert” I need to present an honest opinion. I’m not a fan. I wrote a blog post ( www.strengthcoachblog.com ) called Is Crossift Good for Business. I think Crossfit is in the customer creation business. It’s like buying your first car. You generally don’t start with a Mercedes. In the exercise world Crossfit my get you hooked and hurt. People like us at MBSC are around to pick up the pieces.
Mladen: Pendulum is swinging back and forth all the time, but what do you believe is the next big think in strength and conditioning industry? What do you think what is the next ‘biggest loser’ in strength and conditioning?
Mike: In strength and conditioning, I think intelligent coaches will see that bilateral deficit is real. Unilateral training will become the norm. Traditionalists hate guys like me but luckily lots of intelligent coaches don’t.
The big loser will be Crossfit. There are simply too many “boxes” run by unqualified people. I fear that there will be a catastrophic injury that will wake people up to the dangers of extreme exercise. When I was kid every town had a t least one Nautilus Training Center, now there are none. I forsee a similar trend. ( thanks to my friend Dan John for reminding me of that).
Mladen: What are your thoughts on recent increase in monitoring tools such as HRV? How can that be implemented in private/performance training facilities such as yours?
Mike: I like HRV, I’m just not sure of the practicality? I don't see it having a great immediate impact. I also like the Jawbone Up sleep/ activity monitor. Maybe a little simpler and more user friendly. We might be one “device” away from a real breakthrough.
Mladen: In terms of organizing client data, training programs, tests and staff what computer software are you using? What about communicating with the client using mobile devices to influence their habits and compliance?
Mike: We still use Excel for programs and text and email for communication. It’s funny that we can be progressive and maybe outdated at the same time. Ultimately, the business is still about people and face to face communication.
Mladen: You always have a great book recommendation. Can you recommend couple of good sources and not only directly related to strength and conditioning, but life in general? Which one was the most influential on your philosophy as a coach and as a human being or man?
Mike: I always recommend Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and Dale Carnagie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People on the personal development side.
From a business standpoint I like Five Dysfunctions of a Team, The Collins series (Built to Last and Good to Great), and Marcus Buckinghams First Break All the Rules.
Mladen: Mike, thank you very much for these great insights. I wish happy and productive 2014 and beyond to you, your family and your staff and business. Send my greeting to Anthony Morando especially. Miss that crazy guy and everyone else at MBSC!
Mike: Thank you. Keep up the great work.