An Interview with Dr. Michael Hartman – Part 1
This week’s offering is Part 1 of my interview with Dr. Michael Hartman, a sport scientist and strength & conditioning coach based in Texas. Michael weighs in with some serious credentials to his name, having held coaching and sport science roles at the prestigious US Olympic Training Centre amongst other things, as well as being fortunate enough to learn his trade from some of the most highly regarded practitioners in the field.
As always its an honour to have someone of this standing take the time to answer an interview and share his thoughts, I think there are some big take-homes in this one so I hope you get as much out of it as I did.
Stay tuned for Part 2!
1. Hi Michael, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Could you give my readers your background, and how you came to be a Strength and Conditioning coach?
I was first introduced to strength training as a teenager by my father. There were always bodybuilding magazines lying around, but the first “real” strength training book he bought for me was “Speed-Strength Training for Football” by EJ Kreis. Even now, 25+ years after it was published, I still think it’s a decent book for athletes. Later, during high school, my brother and I were introduced to an organized off-season program that emphasized the use of the Squat, Bench Press, and Power Clean while recognizing the importance of setting goals and working hard; simple concepts that many people seem to forget when designing a program.
I went to college with the idea of playing football as a walk-on, after I realized that wasn’t going to happen, I knew my best chance to stay involved with athletics was through coaching. As an athlete, I enjoyed the time in the off-season to get better and really appreciated the process of training to improve performance. After trying to acquire knowledge on my own I did an internship with the Strength& Conditioning staff, which turned into an Assistant Coach position. My duties were somewhat restricted, but it was the first time I had to structure workouts for team sports other than football, as well as design training around a seasonal competition calendar.
2. Who have been your biggest influences as a coach and person?
As a person, my father has had a profound impact on my life from an early age. He worked for the Baltimore City Fire Department for 30-years before retiring a few years ago. He always had to work a long day or night shift, but always made time to train, and still take my brother and me to our various practices and games. His work ethic is superior to anyone I have ever met; he never cut corners and always finished what he started.
As a coach, I have been very fortunate to work with some outstanding individuals either directly or indirectly involved with Strength & Conditioning. I have spent an immeasurable amount of time discussing training theory with Glenn Pendlay and consider him a good friend. We rarely disagree on issues related to training. That’s not to say we are always right, but that we are usually on the same page. My brother (Jason Hartman), Jon Carlock, Dr. Lon Kilgore, Andy Tysz, Dr. Jason Winchester, and recently Justin Lascek are the people I know and trust when it comes to discussing training.
Not necessarily because of their philosophies, as we sometimes differ, but due to the fact that they always have an educated, well developed reason for doing what they do and prescribe. Honestly, it’s very hard to single out only a few people because I have tried to take something (anything) from each person I have worked and communicated with over the years…even if it is what not to do.
3. Could you give my readers an outline of your training philosophy/methodologies?
My general philosophy is to do whatever is needed to improve.
It is a very simple philosophy that, at times, is lost on many coaches. Whatever decision I make in regards to exercise selection, program design, rehab/prehab, etc. I always try to ask myself, “Why and how will this make my athletes better?” It is very easy to get caught up in improving numbers on certain exercises or tests, but the bottom line is always what happens on the field. You can not sacrifice on-field performance for weight room success.
I view all strength training for athletes as general preparation so I really try to stick to the basics in the weight room. In my opinion, all training can fit into one of three broad categories: strength, endurance, and mobility.
These three areas must be addressed in all athletes but to varying degrees based on the needs and classification of the athlete or team, and during different times of an athlete’s career. Most workouts contain a dynamic warm-up, 3-4 basic compound exercises, and then some remedial or corrective pre/rehab exercises.
I tend to focus on technique and quality of the lifts being performed and only bump up the training load when the athlete has demonstrated they are capable of handling the work load. I am a huge proponent of the Olympic lifts and their variations in training so technique is taught and reinforced everyday.
4. Your research interests and publications primarily deal with adaptations caused by strength/conditioning training. Could you give us an idea of some vital considerations you have taken away from your work and how it has influenced your training prescriptions?
The research I have been involved with deals with, in part, training and recovery. Understanding the balance between those two vital concepts is important for consistent progress and adaptation.
However, the human body is an awesome system. When asked, the body can do very remarkable things. Not just at the elite level either, every single person is capable of far more then they would ever think or choose to do freely. So, sometimes we see results not supported by the research but it is important to understand these changes in the training process none the less.
Not really related to prescription, but one other thing that I have been able to take away from research and coaching simultaneously is that two of the most arrogant groups of people I have ever encountered are coaches and research sport scientists. Maybe rightfully so, but coaches don’t like being told what they are doing is wrong, and researchers don’t like to have their findings questioned; neither wants to admit that they might be able to learn something from one another.
Many sport scientists could use a lesson on the differences between research and service projects. Service meaning they are providing a service to coaches, and not just collecting data for a research study. Likewise, coaches could learn how to interpret research findings and effectively apply them to their coaching strategies; which can also be slightly improved by researchers doing a better job presenting their data in places where coaches can find it; whether it is at coaching clinics or sport conferences.
In my current role as a Professor of Sport Science I try to perform research that is always related to some aspect of performance. Obviously, not the same questions when dealing with elite Olympic weightlifters, but still practical useful information that can be used by strength and conditioning coaches. From the teaching side of my job, I also try to prepare future coaches and practitioners in the field, and lay the foundation for them to make good decisions with their athletes.
5. How do you track and manage the recovery/regeneration of your athletes?
The primary indicator is always performance. If performance drops off for an extended period of time, and does not improve with a brief reduction in workload, then we know recovery is not optimal.
I have heard the argument before that performance may be the last thing to be affected if an athlete is overtrained, but I would argue that if performance does NOT drop off is an athlete really overtrained? If you name a method of monitoring athletes, there is a chance I have used it or have thoroughly investigated how I could use it to my benefit; be it hormonal, neuromuscular, biomechanical, and psychological analysis.
While at the USOC we actually used several tests from all of these areas to track and predict the chance of developing overtraining. The problem is measures like test/cortisol ratio, catecholamines, bar velocity, profile of mood states, heart rate variability, etc. that may indicate overtraining, really are not reliable.
Performance can increase or decrease despite individual changes in those tests. So, the best test is always open communication with your athlete, so they can provide feedback about the training, and also knowledge of your athlete and what they can handle in training, and then adjusting the training to make continued improvements in performance.
6. What, in your opinion, are some of the biggest problems/mistakes you see within the field today?
Every athlete is different and as a coach you must be flexible to the needs to the needs of your athlete. Going back to my philosophy of “do whatever is needed to improve”, there will be times during the training plan that you have to throw out everything you were planning to do, because another area now needs to be addressed as a priority. Injuries, time constraints, etc., will present themselves at the most inopportune times, and as coach you must be ready to adjust. This is also common with long-term training plans and the use of planned hard days or easy days.
Sometimes your hard days need to be easy and vice versa, and as a coach you need to accept that possibility.
Over-analysis and under-analysis of an athlete and their training are different problems that can both have a detrimental effect on long term performance. The coach who attempts to control every training variable and monitor and adjust every minute detail of training and practice can sometimes restrict the ability of the athlete to improve.
Likewise, the coach who just writes a bunch of exercises on the board and does not take into account previous training or future games is equally detrimental. It is related to the other problem of lack of flexibility; coaches need to find a happy medium and adjust when appropriate. Knowing when to have greater or less control of what the athlete is doing is part of what makes coaching an art.
Science should always be the guide, but the art is knowing when sit back and let the athletes drive.
7. You have been heavily involved in Olympic Weightlifting over the last 10 years, and have held coaching roles at prestigious training centres (U.S. Olympic Training Centre, USAW Regional Development Centre). You have also worked closely with many other big names in the field (e.g. Glenn Pendlay, Mark Rippetoe, Lon Kilgore), and have trained a large array of elite Olympic Weightlifters as well as elite athletes from an array of sports. What have these experiences been like and how have they shaped the way you train your athletes?
The USA Weightlifting Regional Development Center was a great opportunity for me in that it combined laboratory based research and coaching of national-level weightlifters, sadly a rare combination. The research end was coordinated by Dr. Lon Kilgore, the coaching by Glenn Pendlay, and the equipment and space were provided through Mark Rippetoe’s facility. It was a great time personally and professionally; being able to talk, and perform, research and coaching with three prominent figures on a regular basis doesn’t happen to everyone, and I consider myself very fortunate.
During my time there we also won 3 consecutive Junior and Collegiate National Championships, and had about 6-8 lifters qualify for international teams. I then went on to work at the USOC as a sport scientist with the USA Weightlifting Performance Enhancement Team which was headed by Dragomir Cirosolan (former national coach for USA Weightlifting) with the research end coordinated by Dr. Mike Stone (former head of Sport Physiology for the USOC). It was as year-long research study that involved tracking the performance of elite weightlifters through testing and monitoring leading up to two different competitions. While there I also had the opportunity to work with Olympic athletes from numerous sports; Cycling, Boxing, Gymnastics, and Wrestling among others.
As I mentioned before, trying to take something positive away from everyone is easy when you are surrounded by world-class coaches and professionals. It has also always given me a reminder on what is really important in training. The day-to-day training plan is not much different than an average athlete, just performed at much greater volumes and intensities; the primary focus is still on proper execution, effort, and commitment to the program. On the coaching end the attention to detail is remarkable at the highest-levels; knowing what to expect out of an athlete 2-3 weeks head of time, adjusting the plan, on a daily basis if necessary, but never losing site of the ultimate goal is a complicated balance.
-END OF PART 1-