John Perry Interview

I forgot I had the following interview with John Perry from two years ago. John was with me at University of Michigan and gave us some really neat input into some exercises because he brought a different set of eyes to swimming. He has a great eye for movement and a deep understanding of function. He has worked both as a physical therapist and as a coach.

What are the essential requirements of a conditioning program?

The activities must fit the results you are trying to achieve. The “why” behind what is being done should come first when designing the program. This should be backed by scientific fact, theory, research and experience (of the coach or others).

One workout must build on the next, i.e. workout # 3 is being done to prepare for activities or results in workout # 7.

There must be a rhyme and reason for all speed, strength and even flexibility work. This would include intensity, volume, rest and variation.

A program must include constant evaluation and re-evaluation of the athlete and team.

Flexibility in the program is a must. The program must be written in a way to allow for modification when needed.

What have been your biggest mistakes?

No “why” behind what is being done.

No plan of action from one workout to the next.

No “end in mind”…i.e no progression to the routines.

No consideration of volume, intensity, work load and rest as variables when designing a program.

What is functional training?

Training the body as a linked system. Also, training movements vs. individual muscles.

Actually, all movement is functional, otherwise we would not move (like when we sleep to recuperate). Should maybe be called purposeful training or directed training or goal-specific training…O.k. I’m done.

How do I make more things more functional?

Evaluate the task and/or goal the athlete is trying to achieve or improve upon. Direct my training based on the biomechanics required for the task, event etc.

This may mean part to whole or whole to part training…it will depend on my continued assessment of the athlete and their activity. It will also depend on their performance in the activity.

What is specificity?

To me, it is anytime you are doing a directed activity to achieve a specific result. “I am doing x because I want a y result. It is also going back to putting the “why” into your design. Basically, it is the reason behind your training.

With the plethora of information how do you know what is best?

I base it on science and research. Any form of training has to have as its foundation some scientific fact or research.

Honestly, I can tell by the way the article is written whether or not it is worth my time. The flow, the examples, the case studies all demonstrate whether an article is worth reading . Ultimately, it is the science and/or research behind it that gets my attention.

What about nature vs. nurture?

I have yet to find an athlete, male or female, that I could not find something to improve upon.

Even Michael Jordan had problems with patellar tendonitis, Shaq and his big toe. (Both biomechanical problem in my opinion…without having looked at them, of course). Whether its posture, flexibility, weakness etc. something can be found to make an athlete more efficient and therefore improve his or her performance.

In some cases a small tweak can make a huge difference…like a compounding effect.

Some changes result in pain decreases, some are improvements in movement or efficiency…all can result in improved performance.

I believe there is a big mental component to performance as well. This should also be part of the training regimen.

Different with females conditioning?

Nothing. I will expect their times and loads (on average) to be different. Overall, their program designs look the same as the men’s.

I do have to emphasize more hip strength/awareness to prevent excessive knee adduction on my female athletes. Trunk strength is another area I emphasize with women.

But, other than some biomechanical considerations the routines vary little.

Biggest innovation? Future innovation?

The biggest innovation I have seen is the way we look at anatomy, physiology and kinesiology. Looking at movement from a loading to exploding perspective. Training from the standpoint of training synergies vs. individual muscles. Yes, this is not a new concept, but it has been emphasized more in the “functional” movement trend lately.

The biggest room for innovation may be in the mental aspect of training. Motivation, visualization, goal setting etc. are huge components of training, often left to sports psychologists and head team coaches.

Personally, I incorporate motivation into each workout in some way. In fact, during the last training day of each week I allot time for reflection of the past week, future goal setting, questions and comments.

Future strategies for the “mental game” would be a nice adjunct to any training program, at any level.

The biggest issue

Using your time wisely or getting the biggest bang for your buck. There is only so much time to train with so many athletes competing on a regular (and too often) basis.

Athletes today play a sport year round. They often play in more competitions away from school, in special leagues, than they do for their own school.

More training and less competition should be the norm. So, fitting in training and the right amount is challenging. Training either has to be very directed to work on a specific issue or very encompassing due to low frequency of training sessions.

Also, as mentioned above, I think the mental aspect of training need s to be addressed more. With school, jobs, competitions and just trying to figure out life, athletes need to work on focus, time management and motivation.

Professional challenges?

As a Physical therapist my biggest challenge has been dealing with insurance companies. It basically drove me out of the private practice setting. However, this turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me, career wise.

Dealing with coaches at the college level would be another issue. Sometimes it is a great learning experience. I have learned a lot about the art of communication and persuasion through these experiences.

Likes/dislikes about coaching

I enjoy teaching. As the saying goes; “If I train you I can help you today. If I teach you I can help you for a lifetime.” Educating my clients is the best part of the job…keeps me on my toes too.

This goes for athletes, coaches and parents. Listening to the needs of these same clients is also important. A mentor of mine always reminded me; “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” You can learn a lot if you just listen.

There are aspects of dealing with these clients I do not like. It usually involves a parent or coach affecting the training by some ill-advised decision they make. The athlete suffers and I have to put out a fire.

Fork in the road?

I was faced with continuing to deal with insurance companies or to lose some security and go out on my own. I ran a performance enhancement center involving physical therapy and performance enhancement training.

Between insurance companies and dealing with employee relations, I decided to move out on my own. I have never looked back.

Who has inspired you to get into coaching?

My dad, uncle and other family members were all coaches. I began coaching when I started working with local high school teams for injury prevention.

Is failure ever valuable?

I think Knowledge is valuable. This is where teaching comes in. The more knowledge you have the less mistakes will be made. Mistakes or failures occur, the fewer the better, however. I think everyone can get to success faster by making fewer mistakes along the way.

Learning from your mistakes is very important. In fact, I would rather call them learning experiences. Personally, I would rather learn the right way to do something…perfect practice makes perfect. Confidence will then improve and success is achieved.

I think that if athletes, coaches and parents are educated and taught correctly then failure will not occur as often. Watching a kid fail by doing something incorrectly and then just telling them what they are doing wrong should not even be called coaching. Coaches should instruct or tweak the athlete, consciously or subconsciously, into the right movement or correct performance of the task.

Letting an athlete fail to teach them a “lesson” is a waste of their time and mine. I feel there are very few exceptions to this. Now, you can let them perform an activity and coach, tweak or modify their movement as they go. Give them feedback as they get closer and closer to the desired result.

I don’t even like to term failure.

As far as the term failure when talking about strength training:

I tell my athletes to go to fatigue, or “go until you cannot get another rep with correct form.” I will do this with body weight exercises occasionally.

Changes encouraged and which resisted?

I think it is good that we are looking for more and more ways to get information out to other coaches and professionals. Seminars, workshops, videos, CD’s and the internet are some off the vehicles being used. I feel this can only improve what we do and benefit those we work with. This is ultimately why we do what we do, right? We are trying to enhance the lives of those we train and educate?

However, I feel not every Tom, Dick or Harry with a “certification” needs a microphone. I realize everyone has a right to their opinion and right to make a living. But, the title of expert or “guru” should be justified and earned before they are tagged as such.

Weeding through the myriad of today’s trash to get to the treasure is part of a professional’s repertoire…or at least it should be. It helps to be a good detective if you want to be a good coach these days.


At 9/3/07, 1:02 PM, Anonymous Jim Richardson said...

Great stuff Vern (all the right questions) and John (great comprehensive perspectives). It continues to amaze me that so many so-called professionals in strength and conditioning just don't "get it." If this functional land-based approach works in the water, it doesn't take a Ph.D. to figure out that it might work elsewhere.

jim richardson

At 9/3/07, 1:22 PM, Blogger Joe P. said...

Vern- John's interview reminded me of something. You use to use the phrase "all training is functional training". As a matter of fact, you once spoke of moving away from the "F" word. Elaborate on what changed your mind, and if you still stand by that quote.

At 9/3/07, 3:54 PM, Anonymous John Perry said...


Great questions!

One comment I would tweak after reading it again: "I think everyone can get to success faster by making fewer mistakes along the way."

I do think that mistakes are part of the game and that making mistakes can help you learn more. If you are making mistakes you are "doing more" or attempting more ( I believe you referenced this in your talk about coaching this week).

It's the whole "better to have tried and failed then never to have tried at all."

This is where teaching,learning and performance enhancement come in to play.


John Perry

At 9/4/07, 4:19 PM, Blogger Adam King said...

Vern and John,

Very nice interview. I enjoy hearing from different perspectives and thoughts. Keep up the strong work.

"Weeding through the myriad of today’s trash to get to the treasure is part of a professional’s repertoire." I love this quote because so much information is out there and some is good and some is not. It is a great process for all us to gain our own thoughts and opinions.

Adam King


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