An Interview with Robbie Bourke
This week’s interview is with Robbie Bourke, a strength coach and neuromuscular therapist based in Dublin, Ireland. I had the pleasure meeting Robbie through the www.strengthcoach.com forums and together we went to the Perform Better Summit in Providence, Rhode Island in June.
Robbie is an up and coming force in the strength and conditioning world and one of the nicest guys you’ll meet. Great things to come from him so be sure to check out his website or go train with/be treated by him if you’re in Dublin!
1. Hi Robbie, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Could you outline your background, and how you came to be an S&C coach?
Well to be honest I am just a baby in the world of strength and conditioning. I am 23, from Dublin Ireland. My background is, as an athlete, I played hurling and Gaelic football for my local GAA club. I have always had a huge passion for sport and fitness and always knew that whatever career path I choose was going to be one that involved something in one or both of these areas.
I did a basic personal training course when I was 19. From there I got my first job at Dublin City
University (DCU), which has both a commercial gym, and high performance gym. I started my career in the commercial gym and hated every second of it. It was your typical commercial gym. All that matter was membership retention, membership retention, and….. let me think….. what was it….. oh, membership retention. Program design and nutrition advice didn’t matter one bit.
The head Strength Coach for the high performance gym at DCU at the time (and still is today) was Martina McCarthy. She really took me under her wing when I first wanted to get into the field. I soon started to realize (the more I studied, and talked to Martina) that nearly everything that I was taught on my original PT course was Bullshit!! After a year of working in the commercial gym I quit to take up a part time job in the High Performance Gym.
My role was to help train all athletes that came through the facility. Our main athletes were gaelic footballers, hurlers, rugby players, a few of soccer players, and track and field athletes. I stayed for another year before I decided it was time to do an internship with one of the big guns, like Boyle or Cressey. So I got an internship with Mike at his Winchester facility last fall. I still hope to intern with Eric at some stage.
But that is my story so far!
2. You are a manual therapist as well as a strength coach and as such possess a large array of “tools” that most strength coaches do not have. How do you feel this particular range of skills aids your work as an S&C professional?
I don’t know how I came to decision that I wanted to do neuromuscular therapy (NMT), but I am glad I did, as it is one of the best things that I have ever done. It has given me a much more holistic approach to training. I am currently doing a Higher Diploma in NMT, and have the pleasure and honour to be taught under world renowned therapists such as Leon Chaitow, and Judith DeLany.
How do I think it aids me?
I like you do believe that soft tissue work is essential for our athletes/clients if they want to see maximal results. In a team group setting though it is not feasible to do tissue work on every athlete individually, so in that situation foam rollers, tiger tails, med-balls, tennis-balls, or even sliotars (a hurling ball), will be used for the athletes do get their soft tissue work done.
What I also love about soft tissue work when I do have my hands on someone is that it is a constant assessment. You are feeling, and weaving your hands through tissue, trying to constantly assess the feedback you are getting. It is another tool in the toolbox, and a valuable one at that.
I will always encourage my athletes to get regular soft tissue work. Whether it is a manual treatment from myself, someone else or just some foam rolling, I just want them working on the tissue quality.
3. Could you provide some advice to my readers who are looking to do a manual therapy course to enhance themselves as a trainer?
I would encourage every coach to do some sort of manual therapy course. As I said above it will give you a more who holistic approach to your training.
In regards to what course’s to do? I would recommend any course that will give you a lot of hands on skill.
But, even if you cannot afford to do a course, or are unsure of what you want to do (neuromuscular therapy, osteopathy, chiro, physical, etc), ask a therapist can you observe. Then maybe ask if they would be kind enough to show you some techniques. From here you will get a feel for what method you would like to incorporate into your training.
4. Could you give my readers a basic summary of your training methodology?
The more I listen to people like Gray Cook, Al Vermeil, and Charlie Weingroff, the more I believe that our main job is to get are athletes and clients to move better. So for me movement drives everything. This is why the joint by joint approach concept of Coach Boyle, and Gray has been such a positive thing within our field.
I know when I ask people this question I am like, “Just tell me what your program design looks like!” So without further ado:
I use the same system as Coach Boyle:
Stretch (Jeremy Frisch will be pulling his hair out!! I kid, I kid)
Dynamic Warm Up
Plyos & Med Ball
I am a big fan of concurrent & undulating periodization. I am a big fan of using tri-sets and quad-sets. I am a big fan of 3 day total-body sessions per week. 2 day in the in-season of course. I like to have one main lower body lift, and one main upper body lift per week. Sometimes I may have two heavy upper body lifts, one push (Bench), and one pull (Chin Up). I love weighted chins, for those with healthy shoulders. My main lifts are usually in the 1-5/6 rep range, and my assistance lifts are in the 5/6-12 rep range.
I will give a sample template rather than trying to explain it all.
A1: Power (Hang Clean, Snatch, DB Snatch, etc) 1-5reps
A2: A.I. Stretch
A3: Hip/Ankle/ T-Spine Mobility/FMS Correction
B1: Main Lift 1-5 reps
B2: Assistant Lift 5-12reps
B3: Core 1: Anti-Extension
B4: Hip/Ankle/ T-Spine Mobility/FMS Correction
C1: Assistant Lift 5-12reps
C2: Assistant Lift 5-12reps
C3: Rotary/ Anti-Rotary Core: Chop/Lift/ Pallof
C4: Hip/Ankle/ T-Spine Mobility/FMS Correction
D1: Shoulder Circuit/Extra Horizontal Row 12+ reps
D2: Some Hip Lift Variation
I once heard Al Vermeil say “Keep a thread of everything in your program”. I think that was one of the smartest things I have heard. That is why I like the concurrent approach I guess. It allows you to keep a thread of everything in there.
5. You have just acquired your own facility in Dublin. Could you give the readers a quick idea what it is like to run your own place?
It is exciting and nerve racking at the same time. The business aspect is something I really struggle with, I am ashamed to admit. It is something I really hope I will improve on over the coming months. I hope to invest some more time and money into the business aspect.
After listening to Thomas Plummer at the Perform Better Summit in Providence, it is clear that it is of the utmost importance to improve your business plan. You may be the most knowledgeable coach and therapist in the world, but if nobody knows about you, you will not go anywhere.
In saying all that, I have loved it so far. I just love coaching. It is what I was born to do. Just get a good business plan together, and you will be all set.
6. You work with Hurlers, which is quite a unique and relatively unknown population outside of the UK. What is it like training this particular group of athletes and do your approaches differ from training other populations?
Hurlers are rotational athletes, so I train like I would train any other rotational athlete (golfers, Baseball players, tennis player, etc). They need plenty of t-spine,hip, and shoulder mobility, as well as good scapular stability.
7. What, in your opinion, is the biggest problem you see within the field today?
The biggest problem is a lack of education. I see so many other coaches and therapists who just spend no time or money on continuing education. This is turn can lead to a lot of poor coaching and treatment, but also to a lot of close-mindedness.
I think in turn this close-mindedness leads people to believe that there is only one way to do something. “This is how you should squat”. “You shouldn’t do a lunge like that, you should do a lunge like this”. “This is how you should……” and on and on. When the answer really is “it depends”.
8. Who have been your biggest influences as a coach and person?
I had a huge list of people typed out, and then I was afraid I was leaving someone out. Truth is I am influenced by so many people.
But if you’re asking me to narrow it down, my biggest influence as a coach without doubt has been Mike Boyle, and Martina McCarthy. Everyone knows Mike, but Martina was the one who introduced me to the whole field of strength and conditioning. Without her I don’t know if I would have fell in love with this field. I owe her a lot.
9. “Corrective exercise” seems to be the buzzword in the industry at the moment. Where in your opinion does this fit in the training process and how do you go about incorporating it into your programs?
Strength Training is corrective exercise. People have weak posterior chains. We do a lot of posterior chain work. People do too much pushing. We do a lot of pulling to correct that. People have shitty mobility. We do lots of mobility work. People have, etc, etc, etc.
As you stated in your question it is just a buzzword.
10. What are your all-time favourite resources for:
- Strength Training:
Functional Strength DVD Series – Boyle
Building the efficient Athlete DVD – Cressey & Robertson
The Indianapolis Performance Seminar Series – Robertson and Hartmann.
- Books for Strength Training:
All of Mike Boyles books
The Science and Practice of Strength Training – Zatsiorsky
Any of Christian Thibaudeau books
Modern Trends in Strength Training – Charles Poliquin
Westside book of Methods, and loads more, but that will do for now.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes- Sahrmann
Low Back Disorders & Ultimate Back Fitness & Performance book & DVD – McGill
Any Chaitow Books
Secret Series DVDs – Cook, Jones, & Burton.
Metabolic Typing Diet
How To Win Friends and Influence People
The Female Brain!
11. What do you do to for your continuing education?
I always like to be doing some sort of course. Currently I am doing my Higher Diploma in NMT, as I stated above. Read of course. Watch DVDs. Listen to Podcasts. Try to read a book every two weeks to a month.
Join websites such as:
12. What resources would you recommend to young, up and coming coaches and/or manual therapists?
For Strength Coaches & Therapists:
I am a big podcast fan. I think it is a brilliant way to keep learning. I must listen to about 1-3 podcasts a day. Wherever I go I always bring my ipod. It is such an easy way to keep learning.
13. If you had to choose one thing that you think people should be including in their training, what would that be?
It is unreal how so many people do not breathe properly. I used to be one. I asked Joe Heiler once, if he could only do one exercise, what would it be? He said breathing, because if thats not right nothing else will be.
14. What advice would you give young coaches like us who are looking to excel in S&C?
KEEP LEARNING. Try to be better everyday. Try to learn something new everyday. Read, watch, and listen to everything you can get your hands on. If you want to be one of the best, you have to have an un-relenting desire to be the best you can be.
You need to be dedicated to becoming one of the best. Reading when you don’t feel like, staying in to watch a DVD instead of going out with your friends (not always but sometimes), listening to podcasts, when you would rather listen to music, and of course getting out there to COACH. This is what you have to prepare yourself to do if you want to reach the top.
I have to read something everyday. I would feel like my day is a waste if I didn’t read something. My ipod is full of podcasts, and audio’s, I have little to no music on it. I am an absolute nerd who is addicted to this field. But, in saying all this, don’t forget to live your life.
Oh, and one last thing. Always be good to people. Always offer a helping hand. Treat others like you would like to be treated.
15. Robbie, thank you so much for your time, it’s a pleasure to have you on the site. Where can my readers find out more about you, and any projects that you may have coming up?
Thanks a million Cedric. It was an absolute pleasure. I am flattered that someone would actually want to read what I have to say. You can find me at http://allthingsstrength.blogspot.com/. This is my own personal blog that I try to update weekly with my own content, as well as interviews from some of the top experts in Strength and Conditioning and Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation.