Interview With Sam Leahey

By January 5, 2010 Interviews

I recently got to sit down with Sam Leahey to talk shop. Sam is very young – 23 years old to be exact, but I believe he’s approaching his career very wisely. I wanted to interview him because I feel he has good intuition and insight. He definitely knows a lot more about training and strength coaching than I did at the age of 23! What I really like about Sam is his curiosity. It’s inspirational! Having tremendous curiosity is one way I can tell whether someone will keep growing and most likely make a big impact in the industry over time. Here’s the interview:

1) Sam, what are your thoughts on “networking”?

Well Bret, as you sited in your blog post, networking, is a tool – nothing more and nothing less. I believe it’s an essential tool though. Once that comes with success and is VERY powerful. I get SOOOOOO passionate and “fired up” when I talk about this subject. Too many college students I know fail because they forget or haven’t realized one simple truism – you have to go out and TAKE what you want! If you’re not willing to put in the time and establish relationships with people then don’t expect to get anywhere!

I am a senior in college right now and I can easily pick up the phone and call Mike Boyle, Eric Cressey, Brijesh Patel, Jeff Oliver, Charlie Weingroff, Jeremy Frisch and speak with them all on a first name basis; a personal level. How/Why can I do that? Sacrifice! I sacrificed my time, effort, and money interning with these great minds, training at their facilities, driving over to visit them and talk shop, etc. I purposely sought to build relationships with them and show that I’m genuinely interested in the profession and want to learn everything I can to reach my fullest potential. Yes, you will have to give up some social life and yes you will have to give up other things in your pursuit of performance enhancement greatness. The essential principle remains SACRIFICE. You have to want bad enough to get in your car and drive states away just to network with someone, to sit down with them face to face and show them you’re interested and passionate. Emails are great but nothing is as effective as shop talk with hands on experience to go along with it.

For Pete’s sake – how do you think I met Bret Contreras? NETWORKING! In this case it was through the medium of www.strengthcoach.com. All in all I am continuously humbled and honored by the fact that men like Michael Boyle, Jeff Oliver, Eric Cressey, Brijesh Patel, Jeremy Frisch, and Charlie Weingroff take time out of their lives to impart wisdom, knowledge, and understand on someone like me. I don’t know where I would be without these mentors.

2) Sam, when did you realize that you wanted to be a trainer?

Wow, this is a loaded question from my perspective. It was actually the culmination of life events. I think like most in this profession it started with me being an athlete. From there I realized how much I enjoyed the preparation process for game day. Even as a freshman in high school I was obsessed with training, specifically program design. I met the S&C coach of the Houston Texans at a summer football camp where he gave me his S&C manual. I couldn’t put the thing down! The next summer I came back with my own “Sam Leahey Training Manuel”. He took a brief look at it and thought I copied it off the internet or somebody gave it to me and I just put my name on it!” While the content was crap (bodypart splits, etc.) it was so organized and put together in well fashion he couldn’t believe some crazy high school kid would do such a thing for his own use. From there I found out who Don Beebe was and he became my new S&C man crush 8) I still have those old VHS video tapes of his on speed development.

Time went on and the realization that a “program” is more than just lifting weights became more evident. I found out who Mike Boyle was my sophomore year of college and haven’t looked back since. The knowledge of www.tmuscle.com led to my knowledge of Eric Cressey, which lead to my introduction to Brijesh Patel, which brought me to Jeff Oliver, and on and on and on. This snowball effect has continued to advance and everyday I’m learning new things. From there I developed passions for all parts of the S&C program, not just one component of it like Resistance Training. I’ve sought to develop my skills in coaching movement and learning about corrective strategies like soft tissue work.

I could ramble on all day here but to answer the question simply, I have no idea when I realized I wanted to become a trainer/S&C Coach. All I know is I was intrigued with the art of program design since I was a kid and my passion for it kept growing and hasn’t stopped since. That passion has turned into some concrete things in my life as I’m currently in college double majoring in Physical Education & Exercise Science with a minor in Sport Coaching. From here I intend to go to graduate school and get an MS in a related field.

3) Do you feel that your football experience makes you a better trainer? If so, how?

HECK YEAH! I truly believe being an ATHLETE makes anyone a better strength & conditioning coach. An athlete is confident with his/her own movement and has the capability of demonstrating or expressing that movement competency to others they’re training or coaching. Playing both D1 and D3 football has given me great insights into the world of collegiate athletics. I was able to participate in an established D1 strength program for 3 years. I learned how a structured S&C program was run from the inside out. I saw the implications such a program and its coaching staff had for all our schools varsity teams and athletic department. I also got a chance to help coach as an athlete. After this experience I was able to contrast it by graduating early and transferring to a D3 school. There I saw just the opposite situation and realized even more so how vital a structured collegiate S&C program and coaching staff is to an athletic department and school. There was no S&C program at my new school and sport coaches were left to train their own teams, none of which knew how to properly of course. The school’s student weightroom sucked and most guys lifted on their own anyway – there were hardly any team workouts!

Also, going through all this S&C and then playing the sport itself gives you a great understanding on what the training is going towards. You get to feel how what you’ve done off the practice field (GPP) translates indirectly into performance on the field (SPP).

Finally, I think being an athlete before a coach always keeps you in check. You never forget what REALLY matters – the sport, and not the quantum nuclear phased super upside down periodization scheme.

4) I see you’ve worked or interned with Mike Boyle, Eric Cressey, Tony Gentilcore, Jeff Oliver, and Jeremy Frisch. List a couple of things you’ve learned from each industry professional.

It would take a decade just to answer this question. I’ve learned so much from each of these men I could never even BEGIN to tell you about it. I’ll try and give some “big bang for your buck” ideas though right here:

Boyle – “it’s all about logistics!” Who cares about the perfect program design if you only have 1 barbell, 1 set of dumbbells, and an airex pad. You have to learn to maximize your equipment use first before you can design your “ideal” program. Practicality first!
Furthermore you can check out the blog posts I did during my internship at MBSC:

Week 1: Preface and Move In Weekend
Week 2: Staff Training Week With Mike Boyle
Week 3: Week One of Fourteen Hour Workdays
Week 4: Building Relationships
Week 5: More on Building Relationships
Week 6: Positioning While Coaching
Week 7: The Beast & The Little School Girl
Week 8: The Best Coaches Don’t LIVE in Internet Land!
Week 9: “Don’t Count the Days, Make the Days Count!” Making the Most of Your Experiences

Cressey – “if you don’t have a decent foundation of strength then training reactive ability or even considering it is a waste of time.” Most of the young athletes that walk through Eric’s doors for training on day 1 aren’t even strong enough to get considerable benefits from classic plyo’s.

Oliver – “you need to have a life!” I think a lot of people in our school of thought who are seeking awesomeness spend tons of time reading, listening, watching webinars, etc. This stuff is great and must be done but if you let it consume you at the end of your career you’ll look back and wish you took the time to invest in others things also like, YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY! It should go without saying that those relationships come first but you’d be surprised.

Oliver – “Just because you write books, articles, and post on internet forums doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about!” It’s been said before but I’ll say it again. Some of the best coaches are NOT posting on forums and getting their name “out there” over the internet. They are actually spending all their time coaching and getting results. We could easily take a look via the internet at people speaking on fitness and writing articles only to find their DEAD WRONG in what their saying. So the point here is that writing an article or lecturing on a topic is not indicative of correctness.

Frisch – “The real keys to athletic success are genetics and recruiting”. If you’re one of those strength coaches who thinks that an athlete achieved great feet’s because of you, then you are SO lost! We don’t turn people into athletes, we make athletes better athletes! An individual’s athletic career is more dependent on their genetic potential than your S&C program. DON’T EVER FORGET THAT!

5) Tell me one thing that nobody knows about Mike, Eric, Tony, Jeff, and Jeremy.

Boyle – Coach doesn’t like to workout!
Cressey (“big EC”) – Eric hates the terms “fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers”. “The demands of the sport dictate the training, not what your genetic makeup is”. Also, Eric hates to be called Coach Cressey or be referred to as a “Personal Trainer”.
Gentilcore – Tony is a “moderate republican” 8)
Oliver (“Olly”) – Jeff is the actual person who convinced Mike Boyle back in the day to use SLDL’s in his program.
Frisch (“Fritter”) – Jeremy believes there is no such thing as “pre-season, in-season, post-season, of-season” training.

6) How many years would you say has the interning process fast-forwarded your learning process?

YEARS UPON YEARS 8) Mike Boyle has been in the profession for 3 decades. He’s made and corrected so many mistakes. He’s forgotten more about fitness than I’ll ever know. I’m fortunate to spare myself all the mistakes he made because he’s shown me a better way of doing things. Eric Cressey may be the youngest guy to open his own training facility and it remain successful. A mentor like him can help me fast-forward my own career and get to my goals faster. An old and wise man like Jeff Oliver can help me see years into the future and make career decision that will put me in a much better situation decades from now.

I just consider myself so blessed, so fortunate, and most of all humbled that these big timers take the time to help a small timer like me out. It really shows how much they truly care about the profession and helping other people out.

7) What do young trainers need to do more of in order to advance their careers?

• Sacrifice
• Be humble
• Try to be the dumbest person in the room. Surround yourself with people in the field smarter than you and you’ll always be improving.
• Understand that knowing stuff is half the battle. You actually have to be good at the coaching part of things to get results.
• Understand that coaching is something you do WITH the athletes, not AT/TO them.
• STOP DOING “PART-TIME” OR “PARTIAL” INTERNSHIPS! That will only get you half the results! You don’t HAVE to have a job. Sacrifice and put in the long hours at a good solid S&C facility/college. The benefits derived will pay for themselves in the future.
• Read, read, read, read, watch webinars, attend conferences/seminars, network, network some more, listen to podcasts, and then go out and COACH! Put all this new found knowledge into practical application.
• Do hip thrusts 8)
• Repeat the above steps.

8. You believe that once an individual has proper mobility and stability, any movement (i.e. activation patterns) can be loaded, correct? What are some unique movements you prescribe or perform?

While I do believe this, the logical extension of this question is more important – WHY would you want to load a certain movement pattern just because you can? What are you getting out of it? For example, once someone learns how to move from the glutes then we can start to progress and load our glute activation patterns (supine hip lift) for reasons you already expounded on in your 9 billion page ebook 8)

Furthermore I think some people forget the “whys” when it comes to “activation” exercises. They’re meant to establish neural control. The folks at Athletes Performance believe you have to do activations hundreds of times before it becomes integrated fully. Either way, I think once you’ve established neural control and can consciously express that in compound movement patterns you can THEN decide if loading that pattern would be beneficial. Some are and some are not. After a while if certain muscles have been activated and integrated fully then I’ll drop activations all together. What’s the point? We have neural control? The key is maintaining it. I believe you can do that by turning lightly done “activation” exercises into actual loaded exercises.

Scapular retraction, depression, and upward rotation are such example I’ve gone beyond “activations” with and turned it more into actual loaded patterns. It’s still “corrective exercise” but I’m doing things like heavy scap retraction on a seated row machine, heavy scap depressions on a dip bar, or heavy serratus/scap punches with a dumbbell.

With the seated row example you simply keep your arms straight and retract and depress your scaps. I see nothing wrong with going as low as a 6RM! Same goes for the dip bar – just keep your arms straight and do reverse shrugs to train scapular depression. I’ll hang heavy weights with a dip belt and go as low as a 6RM. For upward rotation you can lay supine on a bench and with one straight arm holding a dumbbell protract your scapula for reps. All three of these examples along with Hip Thrusts are just some ways I believe loading “activation” patterns can be done safely.

Now, going back to my initial thoughts, you wouldn’t want to do something like a supramaximal face pull! It would get pretty sloppy and you’d be getting more harm than good out of it. It just comes down to using coaching wisdom and understanding the “whys”.

9) Quick thoughts:

Movement patterns

Just like depth of understanding is better than learning new stuff – mastering certain motor patterns is better than trying to be proficient at every single pattern under the sun. Get brilliant at the basics first.

Bilateral squats

The whole world doesn’t need to stop doing bilateral squats because Coach Boyle doesn’t use them anymore. I feel like if Coach came out tomorrow and said “front squats are back in!” then everyone would be parroting “OMG! WE NEED TO FRONT SQUAT AGAIN!” Point being that Coach wants you to THINK for yourself, not be a short sighted parrot, and just do whatever he says. Do what is best for YOUR situation. In his situation, front squats are not the best option and no one should argue with him about it.

Chin ups

Most people do them wrong. Stop shrugging and keep your chin tucked the WHOLE time!

Hip thrusts

They need to be progressed properly! Don’t just jump on the band wagon without proper mechanics. Too many people are throwing a zillion pounds on a barbell and just blasting away. You will no doubtedly get too strong a compensation in the erector spinae if you don’t develop the motor pattern necessary for optimal gluteal dissociation.

Here’s my bilateral progression:

Learn and master how to move from the glutes with bodyweight first. Then load it up and progress only when you’ve mastered the proper kinetics of each stage. The key is coaching the exercise, not just doing it.

Thanks for your time Sam!!! Much appreciated.

Thank YOU Bret. Its big timers like you that constantly make me want to grow and be the best I can be because I realize I have so much more to learn.

12 Comments

  • TJ says:

    Bret,

    Thanks for sharing this interview with Sam. I especially liked some of the comments he shared from Jeff Oliver. Excellent stuff!

    If possible, I was wondering if you could get Sam’s follow-up take regarding scapular depressions on dipping bars. I have liked these for years (specially since they can be added in without requiring much extra time), but I recall Eric Cressey mentioning that they were hard on the AC joints.

    I am not sure if Eric was referring to them being hard on the AC joints under all circumstances or merely when performed sloppily/without adequate control on the lowering (shrugging) phase and/or used by someone with a pre-existing AC joint issue. Perhaps Sam could share a bit of extra insight into this or maybe he has even discussed this directly with Eric.

    My take was always that keeping the shoulders down and back and progressing conservatively (form before loading) would be more than enough to make this a perfectly safe and valuable add-in depending upon the needs and circumstances of a given lifter. But I do think I recall Eric giving scapular depressions on a lat pull-down (basically an overhead reverse shrug) the thumbs up while giving the dipping bar scapular depressions a thumbs down (but perhaps I misinterpreted or mistook an isolated recommendation for an over-arching one).

    Thanks again to you both for sharing this interview!

  • Sam says:

    Exactly TJ – you cant allow yourself to come crashing down on the dip bar reverse shrug for the reasons you already mentioned. You need a controlled eccentric.

    Once you got proper movement then you’re OK. To be quit honest it depends on the individual assesment as Eric will tell you.

  • Tim Vagen says:

    Great Stuff as always from both of you. I’m printing this out and giving to all my interns and any young trainer I know.

    A you say Sam; “YOU ARE THE MAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

  • Sam says:

    Thanks for the kind words Coach Time but i think we know’s REALLY the man – YOU!

  • Chris says:

    Great interview guys!!

  • Mark Young says:

    Great interview gentlemen! I use that word loosely. 🙂

  • Sam says:

    You’re the second person to use that word “Great”. Honestly i find it hard to believe that its great but i guess my own perspective is much different than those on the outside.

    Thanks so much Mark. It really means alot to me to hear it coming from a big timer like you.

  • Good stuff lads.

    I loved the smart remark about Brets 9 million page e-Book!!

    Wasnt far off I suppose 😉

  • Rob Taylor says:

    Nice interview. I enjoyed the read. Thanks for sharing! Keep these coming.

  • A'Mar says:

    Really great interview that gives perspective on quality of time spent versus quantity; to get proficient in a craft. A quick question for Bret: what’s the best way to go about finding a mentor? I would like to find one (here in Los Angeles) but I’m not sure what’s the best option to find one, I really don’t have any idea where to start. Would putting an ad up, on say Craigslist, be a bad idea? (I do understand that there’s lots of jokers on there, but there are some legit folks there too) Any thoughts that you could provide would be much appreciated. Thank you.

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