Track Coach

Interview with Gregory Haff

By Russ Ebbets

G. Gregory Haff, Ph.D., C.S.C.S.*D, FNSCA, is a professor 

of Strength and Conditioning at the School of Medical and Health Sciences of Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, West Australia. He was awarded the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s 2021 Impact Award in recognition of the impact of his research, teaching and service to the strength and conditioning profession.

Gregory, what is your background in sport?

GGH: As a youth athlete I participated in gymnastics and track & field especially the sprint and throwing events. As a teenager I pivoted toward football and track & field which really fit my personality and skill sets. When I was 11 years old my father snuck me into the West Morris YMCA in Randolph, New Jersey, and introduced me to strength training. Ultimately, the time spent with my dad lifting weights set the foundation for my athletic and professional career. 

When I entered college, I walked on the track & field team as a thrower, but probably should have focused on the 100 and 200m sprints as in hindsight I had more potential as a sprinter than a thrower as I only weighted about 83kg/180# and my sprint times were very good. The issue was that I liked lifting weights and many track coaches at the time thought this would make you slow so they directed me to the throwing events because those were the people who lifted. 

While on the track team I got introduced to competitive weightlifting and eventually got talent identified by York Barbell, so I pivoted to weightlifting. I competed in weightlifting from 1988 till 2002. In 2003, after I retired from competitive weightlifting, I became interested in track cycling and began racing on the Frisco Velodrome in Frisco Texas. In many ways I wish I had found track cycling when I was a teenager as the sport really was interesting to me as it leverages strength, speed, strategy, and technology which are all things I have always been interested in. 

Overall, I am now 53 and have consistently lifted weights for the past 42 years and continue to explore how to challenge myself physically and more recently have been dabbling in CrossFit as many of the military people I work with advocate this type of training. 

How did you get interested in sport science?

GGH: When I was a freshman at East Stroudsburg University, I was lifting in the university weight room and Professor Frank Pullo and Professor Arnold Goldfuss directed me toward the sport science emphasis in the physical education course and particularly with a focus on strength training. In fact, Prof. Pullo introduced me to the NSCA and at the time the Husker Power text written by Boyd Epley. 

During that time, I was on the track & field team as a thrower and occasional sprinter, and I met Coach Rich Fields who was one of the track & field coaches at the university. He introduced me to the sport of weightlifting, which in reality began my journey into the area of sport science. At a Pennsylvania State Championship weightlifting meet I happened to meet Andy Fry, who was studying for his PhD with Prof. William Kraemer at Penn State and over time we became lifelong friends. Andy is probably the one person who really got me interested in sport science as he would come to East Stroudsburg to collect data on the tennis team from time to time and what he was doing piqued my interest. 

He also introduced me to the legends of our field including Prof. Mike Stone, Prof. John Garhammer, and Prof. Kyle Pierce all of whom were working with USA Weightlifting doing research on things like overtraining and talent identification. At the time I was most interested in biomechanics and wanted to figure out how to optimize my personal weightlifting performance and Prof. Garhammer was someone who I admired greatly. 

I eventually ended up going to Appalachian State University, mainly to become a strength coach, but in working with Prof. Stone I found someone who truly inspired me athletically and professionally. I spent three years with Prof. Stone studying, researching, and training – those were the most formative years of my life as I learned more from him than anyone I have worked with since. That time and my continued friendship with Prof. Stone have allowed me to grow into the professional I am today. 

How do you define sport science? What do you see as your area of expertise?

GGH: Sport science is the use of scientific methods to answer questions that inform the training process. Sport science is not just using devices and instruments to collect data, but a systematic process of answering questions through testing and interpretation of data with a lens toward the optimization of performance. A strength scientist, which I consider myself to be, is a sub-specialty within sport science in which the scientific method is used to inform decisions associated with the optimization of the athlete’s maximal strength. As such, I leverage various scientific disciplines, such as nutrition, physiology, biomechanics, data analytics, etc. in order to inform specific programmatic decisions related to the optimization of performance with an emphasis on strength development. 

Who were some of the early influences in your athletic career?

GGH: I think as an athlete growing up, I was influenced by the Olympic Games, the Wide World of Sports and professional football, and to some extent the World’s Strongest Man competitions that were prevalent on ABC in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I think my father was probably my first major influence as he is a Marine and physical training is a part of the Corps ethos, so at a young age training was something we just did — we lifted, swam, did athletics, cycled, etc. In many ways he was preparing me to join the Marine Corps, something I wish I had actually pursued. As a high school athlete a PBS special about the New York Giants strength training program under Jonny Parker and Head Coach Bill Parcells really caught my attention and helped me figure out that strength training and football went together. This got me interested in football, which I played for a while, but ended up focusing on track & field which I was also competing in at the time. From a track & field perspective, Mac Wilkins and Al Feuerbach were two people I looked up to, especially Al because he was a track athlete and competitive weightlifter. As I pivoted to weightlifting, I think Coach Lyn Jones and Prof. Mike Stone were my greatest influences – when others tried to convince me to not be a weightlifter, Jones and Stone actually encouraged me and probably believed in me more than I believed in myself. 

Did you ever have much experience with coaching?

GGH: As a college student at East Stroudsburg University, I was a physical education student with an emphasis in sport science. As part of their curriculum, I had to learn how to coach a variety of sports including team (i.e., soccer, football, volleyball, basketball, etc.) and individual sports (i.e., track & field, gymnastics, tennis, golf, badminton, powerlifting etc.), as well as be able to instruct activities such as yoga, strength training and conditioning. The vast majority of my sports-based coaching has been related to powerlifting and/or weightlifting. I am a National Class Weightlifting coach in both the United States and Australia and have coached the Australian Junior Oceania Weightlifting team in international competition. Currently, I am the co-head coach for the a barbell club in Joondalup Western Australia and coach approximately 15-20 hours a week. As a strength coach I have worked with rowing, women’s volleyball, women’s soccer, and track cycling at various universities. 

What do you see as critical factors in the preparatory or pre-season phase of training?

GGH: When considering the annual training plan the preparatory period is really the place where the foundation for high level performance is established. This phase is where specific physiological, psychological, and technical adaptations are targeted to set the foundation for high levels of performance during a competition period. The more novice the athlete the more time spent in the preparation period. With modern sports and increased competitive densities one thing we see is a reduction in time spent in the preparation period, which often results in deficiencies in the athlete’s physiological and performance foundation. 

How do you define periodization?

GGH: Periodization is the logical integration and sequencing of training factors (i.e., volume, intensity, training density, training frequency, training foci, exercise selection and mode) into mutually dependent periods of time designed to optimize specific physiological and performance outcomes at predetermined time points. More practically, one could simply consider periodization as a strategy for organizing training. 

When considering the annual training plan the preparatory period is really the place where the foundation for high level performance is established.

How would you describe a microcycle?

GGH: A microcycle is probably the most important level of the planning process as this is where we apply very specific training objectives and strategies. The length of a microcycle generally ranges between several days to 1-2 weeks, with seven days being the most commonly used duration for this planning structure. Conceptually, microcycles should be considered as interchangeable structures that can be used to target the training goals established by mesocycles (i.e., 2-6 weeks of training) 

At what age do you see periodization as an effective training tool?

GGH: This is a question I get all the time and I always answer that all athletes have some degree of periodization. We must remember that periodization is a framework or a scaffold from which training decisions are actually made at the programming level. We can think of periodization on a sliding scale of very loose rudimentary planning to very detailed and structured planning. So, if we look at a youth athlete who is in the early stages of his/her long-term athletic development (LTAD) plan there would be a basic periodized training plan which has the development of motor literacy as the main goal, and we would target those goals with various training strategies. On the other side of the scale is the elite athlete who engages in highly focused training where we leverage monitoring, programming tools such as AI and machine learning, nutritional strategies, etc., to seek out those 1% gains that separate the elite form the rest of us. So, for me, all athletes require some form of periodization, though the complexity of the plan will vary.

How do you feel about the effectiveness of periodization in team or ball sports? How does the application of periodization differ between team/ball sports with a defined season versus individual/Olympic sports that more lean towards seasonal goals and the Olympic cycle for performance results?

GGH: Periodization can be applied to both team and individual sports. When examining team sports there is a schedule which is aligned with the calendar year, where you have defined an off-season, pre-season, in-season, and post-season. As such, periodization is a framework that defines the goals objectives for these periods. 

Ultimately the primary confusion about periodization is that people conflate it with programming. While interrelated periodization and programming are actually two different constructs. Periodization provides the scaffolding from which programming decisions are made and all sports require some degree of periodization. 

So, in our team sport example we can periodize our goals and objectives based upon the various season and the targeted goals for the annual plan. From there we can engage in planning and choose one of the periodized models (i.e., parallel, sequential or emphasis) to guide our programming decisions. The beauty of these structures is the annual plan is rather rigid as the competitive season is defined by the league, but programming is very fluid and can be modified based upon our integrated monitoring program and the individual rate of adaptation or progress of the athlete. Ultimately, periodization is applicable to all sports. 

Now if we look at long-term planning or the multi-year training plan, we often look at the quadrilinear cycle, which is most associated with preparations for the Olympics – but this can be adapted and employed for high school and collegiate sports. So, let’s consider our high school volleyball athlete. As a freshman she will have different goals than she would as a senior so our multi-year training plan would have progressive goals established for each annual training plan, which would align with her long-term athlete development plan. Programming would vary from year to year in response to her adaptation and progress toward her projected goals. 

What are your feelings about early specialization? Why is it good or bad? Are there any exceptions?

GGH: This is another common question. Generally based upon the science, athletes who have broad multi-lateral development as youth athletes tend to be more successful as they generally have a greater motor literacy. Thus, for me I think having young athletes engage in complementary sporting activities is important. For example, playing football, basketball and participating in track & field can provide a prospective football player with a variety of motor skills that only serves to make him better in the long run. Now there are exceptions here, in sports like gymnastics which require early specialization you really have no choice but to start young in focused training as these athletes’ elite careers can be over by the time they are 20. 

Do you have any “rules of thumb” when specialization should begin in earnest?

GGH: For me I am a proponent of focusing on multi-lateral training at a younger age as this will allow for the maximization of the athlete’s movement literacy. As the athlete develops greater levels of specialization can be implemented. Often you have to think about this as a “it depends” scenario – for example, young gymnastics athletes are required to specialize at a much younger age than an American football player. So, in this context it really depends upon the sport and the athlete’s level of development within that sport. 

How do you define training age? When does it start and why is it an important consideration in training design?

GGH: Training age is the number of years that an athlete has engaged in physical training. As such the athlete’s training age begins when at the first stage of their long-term athlete development plan. With each year they progress within their plan their training age will increase. Now training age can be contextualized as being a general training age and a specific training age. The general training age would be the years dedicated to fundamental training and learning to train which are typical components of an LTAD plan. These would be multi-lateral and not sport specific. The Specific training age would then include time spent in a specific sport that is targeted. 

Bompa has written often that the training should be 65% efforts so as not to “fatigue the system.” What does that mean and what training can a child do so as not to fatigue the system? What constitutes a 65% effort?

GGH: This is a great question about a quote that I really have never been able to wrap my hands around and have never been able to get Prof. Bompa to explain to me. What I think he means is that we should not train to absolute failure, but to be honest I really don’t know what he is talking about here. 

Regarding this “don’t fatigue the system,” how I have taught this is that the energies of a child can be spent on growth and development or on training and competition. Where there is early specialization and the coach/parent tries to make the child the next superstar they use the body’s energies that could go for growth and development, in order to achieve a highly trained performance now. The future is spent on the present. 

Years ago, I wrote the curriculum for the Youth Level 2 Coaching Ed. One thing I found out was that any child that held a Junior Olympic record before age 16 never amounted to much in the sport. For instance, I have referenced the kid from India, Budhia Singh who they made a movie about, Marathon Boy, on Netflix. All felt he was destined for world-beating marathon times but topped out in his early 20’s injured with a lifetime best in the 2:30’s. Anyway, that is my take on the “don’t fatigue…” issue. It is preferable to have lots of multi-lateral development and create a larger skill inventory that they can draw upon later.

Personally, the statement that training should be at 65% of the effort so as to not fatigue the system is a bit nebulous and without context is difficult to really explain. I agree that when working with athletes we would need to balance their life with their development. What we’re talking about is more about specialization too early in the training process and pushing the athlete too hard too early.  To me this is more of an example of the Too Fast to Ripen, Too Fast to Rot principle talked about by Verkoshansky.   Basically, the rate of gain is proportional to the intensity of training, but the duration of sustaining that performance is inversely related to the rate of gain. And the rate of gain is inversely proportionate to the final performance level. A more systematic and steady gain will result in a more sustained performance capacity that is able to be held for a longer duration.

Were you to employ testing for talent identification which tests would you use? At what age do you feel the test result become a valid indicator?

GGH: I am not a fan of talent identification as it limits who gets into a sport and tends to find individuals who are born early in the year or mature early. If you simply went on talent identification Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, may never have played basketball. The issue I see is that talent is more than physical traits, it encompasses other things that are difficult to measure. If you look at Tom Brady the greatest quarterback ever to play football. From a physical perspective, he really would never be talent identified as he is less than impressive, but he has something special that drives him to be the best that he can be. Recently Troy Aikman called him the least athletic quarterback to ever play the game, but man does he command the game when he plays. It’s that special something that I do not think you can measure. Now as a sport scientist I do test athletes and I measure things like aerobic capacity, anaerobic power, maximal strength etc. as all of these things can give me an idea of what sports the individual’s physiology aligns with. But these are really just the starting point; the will and resiliency that drive ultimate success are what makes people really successful. Those people, much like our special forces community, have something very special that allows them to push themselves to places where other people would simply quit. That truly defines talent in my honest opinion. 

Which tests do you feel are most useful? In terms of information gained, their ability to predict future performance and reproducibility when used in the future.

GGH: This is a hard question to answer because it really depends upon the sport and attribute being tested and why testing is being implemented. I tend to use the 1) isometric mid-thigh pull, 2) vertical jump tests on force plates, and 3) the 30-15 Intermittent Fitness test for many of the team sports athletes that I work with. My cornerstone test is the isometric mid-thigh pull as it can be used to inform on lower body force production as well as how that force is produced (i.e., rate of force development). It is reliable and is used in a variety of sports as well as the military. I am a bit biased as I conducted the first study in the Western literature on this test when I was a graduate student. 

How does testing focus change throughout the season or do you simply use performance times/distances as markers to fine tune future plans?

GGH: Again, this is a “it depends” answer. First you must decide if you are benchmark testing or if you are monitoring. For example, when benchmarking you would have a small battery of tests that are used to determine the athlete’s progression over time. These are done at a key time point within the annual training plan and provide information on how the athlete is tracking toward his annual training plans goals. Monitoring on the other hand is the use of frequent testing to determine the athlete’s current state and provide information from which micro-adjustments are made to the training program. 

Talent identification is more regimented in autocratic countries. The countries aligned with Western thought more leave things to chance. What are some programs you have become aware of that do a good job in identifying and developing young talent? (Australia, Canada, Europe, etc.)

GGH: Talent identification is an interesting construct and one that often doesn’t actually identify talent. Often these programs simply identify fast maturing athletes and specific performance attributes often failing to find the factors related to resiliency and work ethic which are likely the higher order attributes for true success. While in Australia we do a lot of talent identification to find athletes to put into our institute system the reality is that these types of programs actually limit the talent pool more than they provide targeted development of athletes. Fundamentally, you want to have as many people participating in sport as possible so that you can examine a larger amount of people and the let the system identify athletes for you. 

How does the application of periodization for masters (40+) sports differ?

GGH: The application of periodization is no different for a masters athlete than it is for a youth or adult athlete. Basically, you plan a competitive season and you then set goals to establish the framework from which you make programming decisions. Your programming strategies will be different for masters athletes as they will need to have more recovery training and usually have limited capacity to recover from repeated high intensity or high load training. So, it is programming strategies that will differ, not so much periodization models. 

Traditionally periodization is done with a two cycles per year but a distance runner in the American collegiate system might require three cycles per year. How effectively can this be done and is anything lost because of training this way?

GGH: Conceptually, what you are referring to are macrocycles – it is not uncommon for athletes to have between 1 and 3 competitive seasons depending upon their sport or the sports they participate in. Conceptually, to effectively create an annual training plan with 2-3 seasons it’s all about how these programs sequence and how later seasons build off the previous season. Fundamentally, the more competitive season, the less time for physical development, but that being said you can construct these types of programs to be effective at elevating performance and for developing the athlete. 

Do you feel there are significant differences between structuring a season for speed/power events versus endurance events?

GGH: Annual plans are constructed based upon the number of competitive seasons and the competitive schedule. Considering that all sports have these, the basic process of designing periodized training plans is actually similar for all sports. The main difference is in the structure of the annual plan and the needs of the sport and athlete. The main difference between speed/power and endurance events is at the programming level and the physiological and performance outcomes targeted. 

Do you feel there are significant differences between structuring a season for speed/power events versus endurance events?

GGH: Evidence based decision making is a central part of coaching and a part of how we train athletes. For me, all decisions are made based upon evidence, but I must contextualize it based upon my experience and the construct of human interaction. Coaching is not a plug and play algorithm as the human part of the process must be considered. As such, the information we collect has to be filtered based upon human understanding and experience. 

Mental health has been given much focus lately with some high profile athletes sharing their struggles. What do you feel are some critical areas or points of emphasis a coach could consider to ensure a training and team environment that promotes a strong mental health?

GGH: We have seen an alarming rise in mental health struggles in society and within sport. What we know is that resiliency is a learned and practiced skill as such we must expose people to difficult things in their life in order to help them develop the ability to tolerate the stressors of life. While exposing people to difficult things is a critical component of this development, the secondary component is that we must challenge them in a caring and nurturing environment. As coaches we must always remember we are working with humans who have different feelings and experiences. As such we must be cognizant of how we communicate and interact with people. 

Regarding plyometrics – what is the value of plyometrics?

GGH: Plyometrics are a training tool in which we engage the stretch shortening cycle (SSC). Plyometrics are simply a method for developing the capacity to maximize the effectiveness of the SSC. 

What preparation is necessary to successfully integrate plyometrics into a training program? At what age can plyometrics be safely started?

GGH: Anyone theoretically can perform plyometrics. If we look historically children who engage in free play often jump over things, drop off of things or engage in jumping activities such as skipping rope. These are all forms of plyometric activities. The issue that we have is that many youths today do not engage in free play and are significantly lacking in the requisite strength levels to maximize the effectiveness of plyometric training. As such, in these populations we need to first build strength before we engage in plyometric training. If the athlete lacks the requisite strength, he will not be able to tolerate the eccentric loads associated with plyometric training. 

At what point in a training cycle should plyometrics be introduced?

GGH: The classic answer to this question is “it depends”. The integration of plyometrics into a training program is really dependent upon the goals of the training program and the structure of the program. For example, if you use a sequential model of periodization, you would not bring plyometrics into the program until you have first targeted strength endurance and then maximized strength. As such, plyometrics would come into play during the strength-speed and speed-strength phase of the training program. If, however, you were using an emphasis model of periodization you would have plyometrics in every stage of the training plan, but the emphasis would vary. 

In this example, when targeting strength endurance as the primary emphasis we would do lower level plyometrics at a reduced volume and strategically place these exercises to minimize the impact of cumulative fatigue effects within the training block. In a speed/strength-focused block of training, we could increase the emphasis on plyometric training and integrate higher level plyometric exercise such as depth jumps, etc. As such, where you put plyometric, and which plyometric you use is largely predicated by what your training goals are and the program structure you are using. 

That being said another consideration is the overall level of the athlete and in particular the relative strength of the athlete. While any athlete can perform plyometrics it is important to remember that stronger athletes benefit more from plyometric training and are able to undertake higher level plyometrics more effectively. Conversely weaker athletes get less benefit from plyometrics and have consistently been shown to benefit more from increasing relative strength in lieu of focusing on plyometric or power-based training. 

Do you have any rules of thumb regarding leg strength necessary before plyometrics could safely be used? (I’m referring to the old 1.5x bodyweight in the squat). What strength markers would there be for the arm and trunk?

GGH: when looking at plyometric training the stronger you are the more effective plyometrics will be. Generally, for lower body plyometrics we would use a 1.5x (body mass) BM cut-off, but in reality, the threshold of 2.0x BM is probably a much more effective threshold. With the upper body a threshold of 1.0-1.5 x BM is the strength minimum. The other issue that we see is that stronger people are able to better tolerate plyometric training and can better perform higher level plyometrics. That being said lower level plyometrics such as pogo, etc. can be used with weaker people, but one must consider the volume and load interactions. One must also consider that with weaker people, those that for example cannot squat 2x BM would get much more benefit from getting stronger than spending large amounts of time with plyometric training. 

What do you feel is the greatest misunderstanding or misapplication of plyometrics? (too much too soon, mistakenly used as a conditioning exercise, age/ability inappropriate, etc.)

GGH: The biggest issues I see is using high level plyometrics such as box jump, drop jumps and repeated box jumps with weaker athletes. With these athletes they are not strong enough to offset the eccentric load that occurs from the acceleration associated with gravity. Additionally, when thinking of these types of activities one must consider the size of the athlete – bigger athlete will be exposed to higher loads upon ground contact. The other issue I see is people perform high volumes of plyometric under fatigue which lengthens the time between the eccentric and concentric phase of the SSC which reduces the effectiveness of the plyometric. Finally, performing plyometrics as conditioning causes the same issues. 

How do you recommend one quantify plyometric efforts? By number of ground contacts performed or the timing of a series of efforts?

GGH: The answer to this question is it depends. For me plyometrics should be applied with the less is more principle and must be considered in the context of everything else that the athlete is doing. For example, if I am in-season with a volleyball player who in technical practice is doing large numbers of jumps practicing their technical skills then there is really no need to add high volumes of plyometric training to their training plan – so in this case we would focus on strength development and strength speed in the weight room. I would look at the interplay of contacts and also intensity when designing plyometric training programs. I would not recommend programming based upon time, it is more difficult to control the training dose. 

What is overtraining? How can this be prevented?

GGH: When we think about fatigue, we can look at it across a continuum from acute fatigue to functional overreaching, to non-functional overreaching, and then overtraining. Within the literature overtraining is defined as an accumulation of training and non-training stress resulting in long-term decrements in performance capacity with or without physiological or psychological signs or symptoms of maladaptation in which restoration of performance capacity may take several weeks or months. Conceptually overtraining is the result in an imbalance between training loads and recovery, resulting in reduced performance. The best approaches to avoiding overtraining is to 1) use well-crafted periodized training programs, 2) plan and structure sleep strategies to match, 3) optimize nutrition strategies, 4) monitor athletes with subjective and objective tools. 

With regards to overtraining – do you do much to differentiate between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system OT?

GGH: There is much debate about sympathetic and parasympathetic overtraining. Personally, if we look at overtraining it is simply a decline in performance that occurs as a result of accumulated fatigue from training or other stressors. Overtraining can result from both sympathetic and parasympathetic overwork. It is very difficult to differentiate between sympathetic and parasympathetic overwork because the symptoms often overlap. As such I often avoid getting too granular when looking at overtraining and deal with the issue more holistically. 

At what point would you discourage an athlete’s personal style and their deviation from an accepted technical model?

GGH: Style is an interesting concept as there are key known mechanical principles that relate to performance that inform basic models of performance. There are instances where athletes can be very successful with an individual style. For example, Michael Johnson whose running style was very atypical achieved higher levels of success with his personal style than with a more typical running style. For me this is another “it depends” question if the style is not maximizing performance than we must change it to one that does. 

Recovery, to me, is the piece of Yakolev’s Model that gets the least attention. We are all about making someone tired and have 1001 different ways to accomplish this task, but as for methods to recover, not so much. What do you see as some “must do’s” to enhance recovery and what are some underutilized modalities, treatments or practices that you feel would be worth investigating more in the future?

GGH: I actually disagree, but this may because I am in Australia where it seems all they care about is recovery and often spend an inordinate amount of time on recovery, often at the detriment to training. My base belief is all the recovery in the world will not overcome bad training. I am not sure where the idea that making someone tired is a primary goal came from as an idiot can make another idiot tired. For me it is about dosing training in a prescriptive manner and then matching recovery to that training dose. Ideally at the center of this process is having an effective training program that is correctly periodized. From there the two corner stones are 1) nutrition and 2) sleep. 

In most instances, if your program is well structured, your nutrition is optimized, and you are getting enough sleep, recovery will take care of itself. In some instance more advanced strategies are warranted including peristatic pressure (i.e., Normatek), water immersion (i.e., cold, contrast and thermoneutral), compression as well as massage can all be beneficial. Things like mindfulness and meditation can also aid in the recovery process. 

In my experience I have found that there is a lack of focus on periodizing recovery to align with the training process and this really impacts the effectiveness of the training process. For example, if the athlete is engaging in an overreaching block increasing carbohydrate intake, increasing sleep, sleeping with compression garments on, as well as strategic use of water immersion protocols may be useful. I believe more research on the periodization of recovery methods is warranted. Much like training, if you do the same recovery all the time it will begin to lose its effectiveness. 

Charlie Francis spoke of the 10-Day Rule following an exceptional or personal best performance and the subsequent rest period necessary following such efforts. Has there been much new research/thought that either supports or refutes these thoughts?

GGH: While I am sure for the athletes that Charlie Francis trained this principle worked, but for me I do not believe we can pigeonhole people to rules like this. There is a large degree of interindividual variation in our ability to recover. In fact we are currently doing research to determine if there is a genetic component to the time-course of recovery. As such, it really depends upon athlete phenotype and how their program is structured, their athletic level, their type of performance, the overall design of their training process, and how dialed in the their nutrition and recovery strategies are. We are limited with the number of truly maximal performances we can present in an annual plan and this is really where periodization helps us determine where we want those performance to most likely occur.

Are there any other disciplines that you have investigated to see “how they do things” and if so, what are some of the things you have learned? (I’m thinking not necessarily of sport-related disciplines such as swimming or cycling but more musical development, artistic development)

GGH: I am a firm believer in reading and having a diverse reading list. I spend a lot of my time reading. For example, over the past few years I have been spending a large amount of time reading about leadership and how to motivate people as well as biographies from about people who are the best at what they do be it coaching, sport, business, cooking, etc. One thing I note is people who are the best at their chosen profession have a lot of commonalities. I am a huge fan of the book Extreme
by Jocko Wilinik and Leif Babin as well as General Stanley McChrystal’s book Team
. From these books I have learned about how to lead and organize organizations. Conceptually, a sporting team is a team of teams. You have a medical team, a human performance team, a nutrition team, a rehab team, athletes, businesspeople all of whom need to function with agility and in concert with one another. Through creating interactive teams, you can better service the athlete’s needs, whilst making the organization more efficient. The principle of extreme ownership is about taking ownership over one’s actions and not falling prey to victimhood or blaming others for the things that go wrong in our life. 

What do you see are the greatest differences between coaching men and women?

GGH: Personally, I coach athletes and the sex of the athlete is irrelevant. If you ascribe to principles of individualized training, you will train the person based upon his/her needs and develop communication styles to align with the way that person requires communication, and their sex really does not dictate these demands. Fundamentally I do not see much difference between men and women but do see differences between individuals regardless of sex. Some athletes need a more direct and authoritative communication style, others need a more sympathetic style. Each individual will have physical weaknesses that we will target. Now there are some physiological differences between the sexes that we must understand and work with, such as the menstrual cycle, but again each female responds differently to menstruation so again it comes down to training individuals. 

What accommodations should be made for the late adolescent (ages 18-21)? This seems to be more a problem with the “one and done” basketball players that go professional early. It seems that the grind of the NBA seasons seems to generate season ending injuries consistently within the first two years of a career.

GGH: The issue with late adolescent athletes transitioning to professional sport is centered on where they are in their developmental pathway. They may be highly developed as basketball players, but underdeveloped physically. As such they are at greater risk of injury because they do not have the physical profile to support their level of play. As such, the key is the implementation of multilateral training at younger ages and structured strength and conditioning and not solely focusing on the skills development for the sport. 

Regarding career longevity – What defines a “career” at a high level? How long does an athletic career last? What can be done to prolong longevity?

GGH: This is an interesting question, and it really depends upon how you look at it. For me career longevity is the ability to continue to operate at a high level for as long as possible. The length of a sporting career is a very individualized thing and relates to a lot of factors. I would say “luck” which is the residual of preparation is what allows one to have a long career. If you want to have a long career you need to maximize things like effective training – more is not always better. Optimize your diet as nutrition is probably one of the most critical aspects of performance. As I have aged, I come to believe that range of motion, which declines with aging, is an essential component of maintaining performance levels for a long period of time. Another factor is maintaining strength. Strength is critical as the aging process results in strength loss – fundamentally weak things break more frequently. Finally, one must work to ensure that mental health and wellness is retained. It is well documented that psychoemotional stress impacts the recovery process – so maintaining healthy levels of psychoemotional stress is important. 

Is there an area that you researching currently? What contribution do you hope to see these efforts make?

GGH: Currently we are exploring the concept of personalized training and how we can integrate technology into the training process without losing the art of coaching. Everything we are doing is centered on maximizing performance for as long as possible. 

For a newer coach – what three areas would you recommend they focus their attention on or try to develop a level of mastery early in their career?

GGH: When looking to develop as a coach I ascribe to the principle that you must understand the science that underpins the principles of training, be diligent in your practice of coaching, and compete at something athletically. Career development is a progressive journey, and it takes time to master one’s skills. Often mastery does not come until one has failed and had to be reflective about that failure. I believe that the first thing you must do is find a mentor, someone who has achieved great success and is deemed a master. For example, I did a large amount of my academic study under Prof. Mike Stone, an icon of strength and conditioning research, but simultaneously worked under his wife coach Meg Stone one of the legends of strength and conditioning. This work was the beginning of my professional journey, from which I have continued to evolve through self-study and continued learning. 

Any authors or articles you’d recommend for further study?

GGH: It is my belief that to be the best professional you must be an engaged reader, not only in your area of focus but across a broad spectrum. At the moment I am very interested in leadership, particularly within the military so I would recommend the following

• McChrystal GS, Collins T, Silverman D, and Fussell C. Team of teams: New rules of engagement for a complex world. Penguin, 2015.

• Fussell C and Goodyear CW. One mission: How leaders build a team of teams. Penguin, 2017.

From a sport science perspective, I think reading the works of the icons is key, people like Prof. Hakkinen, Prof. Stone, Prof. Komi, Prof. Schmidtbliecher, and Prof. Verkoshansky, as until you understand the past you cannot understand the future. Some modern authors I like are Professor Comfort, Professor McBride, Professor Fry, and Prof. Sinclair. 

I think the biggest emerging area will be in the area of data analytics, machine learning and AI as these tools will inform our future training practices and understanding how to use these tools will be an important part of coaching in the future. 

Anything else you’d like to add? 

GGH: Coaching is an art which is based upon science. To truly be a master coach you must understand the science that underpins how the body functions and how it responds to various stimuli. But you must also understand how to get people to do things that they may not particularly want to do. So being able to leverage science to support the softer skills of coaching is critical. The other thing that I always tell my students is that you must be humble, and you must consider that you do not and will not know everything and there is always something to learn. One must consider that criticism comes with the territory, and you must not let this define who you are when people critique your work, they are critiquing your work not who you are as a person. The athletes you train are people, and you must always remember we are in the people business so the ability to communicate, motivate and display empathy are keys to being successful. 

G. Gregory Haff, Ph.D. C.S.C.S.*D, FNSCA

G. Gregory Haff is the Professor of Strength and Conditioning and the Course Coordinator for the Post Graduate Degree in Exercise Science (Strength and Conditioning) at Edith Cowan University. He is a Past President of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and serves as a Sport Scientist on the Australian Weightlifting High Performance Program Panel. Additionally, he is a Level 2 Australian Strength and Conditioning Association Strength and Conditioning Coach and a Level 3 Australian Weightlifting Association Coach. Dr. Haff was awarded the NSCA’s Impact Award in 2021 in recognition of the impact of his research, teaching and service to the strength and conditioning profession. Additionally, 2014, the United Kingdom Strength and Conditioning Association recognized him as the Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year-Education and Research for the impact of his work. He was the 2011 NSCA’s William J. Kraemer Sport Scientist of the Year Award Winner and has served as the Vice President of the NSCA. Professor Haff is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with Distinction, a founding Fellow of the NSCA, and an accredited member of the United Kingdom Strength & Conditioning Association.