Bill Ebben Interview

Bill Ebben PhD – teaches in the Marquette University Department of Exercise Science.I first met Bill when he was a strength and conditioning coach at University of Wisconsin. He has published some good research and has developed a nice program at Marquette.

What are most essential requirements for a successful conditioning program? Good program design and creative exercise selection that follows the principles of specificity. Load progression. Research and practical experience indicates that many exercisers do not self-select optimal loads. Multiples modes of training for variety as well as to be sure that the force velocity curve is "covered." training adherence, since the best program in the world, if not adhered to, is worth nothing. I think the coach/athlete relationship is key to adherence.

What are the most common mistakes in conditioning? Too much aerobic training for non-aerobic sports. Too much long slow distance training. The failure to create anaerobic interval training programs. The failure to make the conditioning sport specific.

What is "functional training" from your point of view? Adhering to the principle of sport, biomechanics, velocity, muscle action/contraction and bioenergetic specificity, with good and creative exercise selection, in order to optimize the transfer of training.

What do you do to make your training more functional? Analyze in detail the requirements of the sport or activity the person is preparing for. Create many unique exercises that match the requirements of the sport or activity.

How important is specificity? There are many research studies on this, including muscle action/contraction, velocity, biomechanics, sport, and training mode specificity and that research is pretty conclusive that it is quite important.
What aspect of conditioning athletes is most difficult and how have you tried to address it? Quantification of plyometric, speed development, and agility training intensity and volume. Many questions remain about how much, how to progress it, etc. We only have anecdotal guidelines for much of this. We do research in some of these areas to further understand as well as closely observing the adaptations our athletes make to any given prescription...we try to be methodical in our attempt to see what works and what does not. Carefully evaluate the pre and post test data.

Where do you stand on nature versus nurture? How much difference can

training make? Id like to think nurture makes a fair bit of difference. Otherwise we should find another career. Obviously we cant overcome our genetics to become elite athletes, etc. But nurture helps a fair bit. The size of college and football players is a good example. I doubt that the gene pool evolved in one generation, resulting in players that are now 40 pounds heavier on average than they were 25 years ago. Training and nutrition has had a lot to do with that.

What is the sure sign that a self-proclaimed conditioning guru is not a good source of advice? If the ideas are not based on science and sound professional practice knowledge. If the person seems to lack objectivity. If the person appeals to emotion, numbers or uses other arguments not based on critical thinking. The fact that the person is self proclaiming is a concern in itself.

What do you differently with the female athlete in terms of conditioning? Most information suggests that men and women should be trained similarly. For example, we recently found no differences in rate of force development, etc. During jumping, for athletes of both genders who were exposed to the same training beforehand. However, our lab has found, along with other researchers, that women are quad dominant and had lower hamstring to quadriceps ratios. So female athletes should be exposed to additional hamstring training. I also have added additional upper body training for some since the gender differences in upper body strength, compared to the male counterparts, are more pronounced.

What has been the biggest innovation in training that you have seen during the course of your career and where is the biggest room for innovation in training athletes?The biggest application of an innovative idea may be periodization and the logical, annual planning for training. Better nutrition has helped. Increased appreciation for power developing strategies and more functional sport specific training. The biggest room for innovation centers on further understanding speed, agility, and plyometric program design. These variables are under-researched, especially in contrast to resistance training.

What's the biggest issue in training athletes today? At elite level, there has to be more than injury prevention training, though i recognize the concerns. At the high school and other lower levels...adherence to training. At all levels, the willingness to work hard which may be eroding in a culture where increasing automation, abundance of resources of all types, wealth, the desire for the easy fix, and a reduction in personal responsibility, may issues more than ever before. We need to embrace hard work.

Who has been a role model in your career and why? William Kraemer. Dr. Kraemer has always had time and interest, despite all that he is involved with.

What are the biggest professional challenges have you had to face? As a strength and conditioning coach, it was the never ending workload. Athletics, perhaps more than many professions really seems to require the belief that you must outwork the competition. If you are predisposed to being a bit compulsive in the first place...lookout!

What do you enjoy most about coaching? Dislike? The athletes and their development. This includes physical development but also the evolution of determination, resilience, self-responsibility, personal strength, etc.

Did there come a time in your career where you were faced with a "fork in the road?" If so, do you ever revisit the decision you made or didn't make? I took the "fork" to become a researcher/professor as my primary work and now work with athletes secondarily.

What inspired you to get into coaching? My interest in sport and the values it instills. Also, the bad and good coaches I have known. Much can be learned from each.

Is failure ever valuable? Which kind? If the failure experience is a function of a physical overload, yes, it results in optimal motor unit recruitment, sarcomeric damage that gets repaired, increase bone deformation that achieves additional minerilization, etc. Other life failures are similar: they can result in adaptations of humility, resilience, etc. And result in a sort of supercompensation (not overcompensation:)) provided a person has enough ego strength, consistent with Hans Selye's general adaptation syndrome.

Which changes now taking place in your field that should be encouraged, and which resisted? We need to continue to embrace science and solid professional practice knowledge and resist the reductionism and oversimplification that occurs with fast growth of organizations and professions. The bell shape curve/normal distribution suggests that most people are average, but average can not be the norm, for anything, in our profession. So, collectively, lets be skewed to the right!


At 11/28/07, 6:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment is meant with no disrespect to Dr. Ebben.

I often hear about the strength difference, ratio differential with women with respect to hamstrings and quads. How is this measured? The studies that I have seen are non-functional.

If there is a functional difference, might it be the body is reacting that way in response to structure, female specific characteristics etc? Does that make it bad?

Just wondering...
Jeff W


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