Interview with Mark McLaughlin

PTC_athletesOn a daily basis, I’m seeking out the best and brightest in our field to learn from.

If you do this long enough, you know that most are spewing the same rhetoric that there buddies are.

But Mark McLaughlin is different – and someone I’ve always wanted to learn more from and about.

In this interview, we dig into Mark’s training philosophy. And I can tell this much – if you enjoy the interview, you’re going to love getting an entire day of Mark at our upcoming Midwest Seminar!

But enough from me, let’s get into this interview…

Mark, thanks for taking the time to be with us here today. Could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

Mike thanks for asking me to do the interview.

Mark-Bio-150x150I have lived in Portland, Oregon my entire life. I was involved in sports starting at a very young age. My earliest memory was when I was 5 years old and I received a pair of football cleats for Christmas and it had snowed. I was making all the older kids miss because of my superior traction.

I currently live with my fiancé Deb and I have one son, Mig who attends Portland State University.

What originally got you into the strength and conditioning/physical preparation field?

After college I was in the food packaging business selling to large food processors. In the back of my mind I wanted to get involved with something in sports either as a coach or administrator.

It was after college when I started doing endurance type sports such as marathons, triathlons, and cycling and began to learn more about using heart rate monitors for example to gauge training intensity. That was my first exposure to sports science in a way.

In 1997 I began reading in the local newspaper about catastrophic injuries happening to high school athletes who participated in track and field. One runner broke her femur in the closing 200m of a cross country running meet, and three female athletes from the same high school had to stop running for a while because of anemia.

It was at this point that I thought to myself, something is wrong with their training for these types of injuries to happen. It was then that I began to research different training methods, applied them to my own training, went out and watched the T&F teams practice to see how these were designed, interviewed athletes, and then finally tried to interview local coaches but they all turned down my request.

Wow – I didn’t know all that. Very cool and it’s obviously paid off!

Tell us a little bit about your journey in the field – how did you get to where you are now?

For 3 years from 1997-2000, I studied different training methods and tried them on myself.

Then after that 3 year period I took the next step and volunteered at my old high school to try and validate what I had learned in a team setting and see if I was going to like coaching young athletes.

I can remember the first meeting I had with the football players and I was expecting 30 kids to show up at the meeting. When I walked into the weight room there were about 70! I thought to myself, what I have gotten into here.

That experience was very positive because I learned a lot and knew that this was the path I wanted to pursue.

During that time I was working a full time job plus training at the school 4 times per week. It was a lot of work, but well worth it. After the 3 years I knew I was ready for the next step of opening my own business (the Performance Training Center) and quitting my full time job.

And that’s always an exciting time, when you get the chance to be your own boss.

Now let’s switch gears and talk a bit of training. If you could summarize or whittle your philosophy down to a few paragraphs, how would you describe it?

I would say my philosophy is to develop the biological power of the athlete so they can compete in practice and matches at the highest level with the minimal amount of fatigue. First you must assess through different means what the strengths and weaknesses are of the athlete and these must be age appropriate.

For example an assessment for a 9 year old boy for strength maybe how many good push-ups they can do and the flip side for a 18 year old college freshman who plays college football you would do an Omegawave assessment, max sprint speed for 20 yards, maximal strength test for squat/bench press, and a sport specific endurance test.

Then once you have the data from the assessments, building a program that will fit the needs of the athlete.

Great example. Now a few years back I saw you speak at the Sounder Sports Science weekend, and it was a fantastic talk.

There you talked extensively about developing the heart and autonomic balance early in an athlete’s career. Could you explain why that’s important?

There are sensitive periods in an athlete’s development and coaches who understand when these are and how to address them give their athletes a much greater chance of reaching their full potential. One of the areas in my opinion which often goes over looked is the proper development of the cardiac system.

Let’s look at the science involved to better understand how these athletes should be training to properly develop their heart to maximize performance, particularly at young ages.

There are two different types of hypertrophy of the heart. The first is eccentric hypertrophy, which occurs when the heart is stretched and the muscle fibers lengthened, thereby increasing the size of the heart. The second is concentric, which occurs when the walls of the heart are thickened, thereby strengthening the heart.

If our goal is to increase the size of the heart, exercise should be conducted at heart rates between 120-140 bpm, occasionally spiking to 150 bpm. Long bouts of exercise at these heart rates pump large amounts of blood into the heart, gradually stretching it and increasing its size. Spending more time at this training intensity increases the degree to which the heart can be stretched in this manner.

To develop concentric adaptation of the heart, the heart rate must be at Max VO2, which is typically between 95-100% of maximum heart rate. During this type of training the heart does not have time to open up completely and there is no relaxation phase. At this intensity there is acidification in the myocardium, which contributes to the growth of the heart’s muscle fibers.

What happens to the young athlete’s heart when they perform extensive volumes of work at heart rates between 180-200 bpm?

As the heart rate begins to increase upwards towards 200 bpm, the heart does not have the opportunity to relax and because of this, there is stress on the heart and hypoxia begins due to the lack of oxygen.

With the lack of oxygen, lactic acid begins to form in the heart. Excessive volumes of this work can cause the myocardium to thicken, which can make eccentric adaptations more difficult in the future and can ultimately limit increases in stroke volume, which is a key component of VO2 Max.

Younger athletes who work at super high heart rates (95-100% of maximum heart rate), either for extended periods during particular training sessions or to a more limited extent on a regular basis, not only acquire the incorrect adaptation of the heart, thereby failing to maximize their endurance, but their endocrine system eventually becomes exhausted.

Training at such a high level of intensity several times each week puts an athlete under extreme stress, as recovering from such workouts requires a large allocation of blood hormones and the endocrine system quickly becomes exhausted.

I’ve talked about this, too (please read this for more info), but it’s great to hear you say it as well.

You also mentioned that if an athlete wanted to work with a separate coach outside of yourself, that you wouldn’t train them. I love this model, and can you explain why you work this way?

When parents or athletes come to me and they lay out their goals of performance improvement, I am completely honest about what I think will work and what won’t.

If you have too many cooks in the kitchen making minestrone soup, and one is throwing in a little of this, and then another one throwing in some of this, and another one this because they all have their ideas on what makes a good minestrone it will never taste like any of them want it to.

The same goes with training; if you have multiple coaches wanting to impose their “recipe” ideas on the athlete and never take in to account what the other is doing trying to meet the athlete’s goals, it will be next to impossible. This is why I want complete control to give the athlete the best chance of creating the culture to allow them to reach their full potential.

Absolutely. If I’m correct, you were one of the first people in the United States to have an Omegawave. Could you briefly explain what an Omegawave is, and what it measures?

The Omegawave is a non-invasive tool used to measure the readiness of the athlete at rest. The system tests the readiness of multiple biological systems which include the Cardiac system, Metabolic, Central Nervous System, Cardio-Pulmonary, Detoxification, and Hormonal. (See the videos below for a brief recap on this.)

Within as little as 2 ½ minutes you can see how ready the athlete’s different systems are prepared to handle different degrees of training. This is great for the coach because it can give day to day feedback and then over time you can see how the individual athlete is responding to training, recovery, travel, and nutrition.

And following up on this point, how do you integrate an Omegawave into what you do on a day-to-day training basis?

Yes I do. With all the athletes who train under my guidance they are tested every day. With Omegawave’s new mobile phone application, they test themselves each morning (for those who don’t have the mobile system I test them prior to their training session).

Based off of those assessments, I then adjust the training accordingly, prescribe individualized recovery i.e. contrast showers, Epsom Salt baths, ect). This way the athlete gets the type of training they are ready for and it’s not a random guessing game and I can also tell if the proper adaptations are occurring based on the daily tests.

Mark, we’re almost out of time but I have two more questions for you.

I’ve invited you to speak at this year’s Midwest Performance Enhancement seminar, and you’ve got an entire day to really dive in and discuss your training methodology.

What do you expect to cover during this time?

The title of the presentation is Learning to Train One and is a phrase my mentor Val Nasedkin drove home to me when we would discuss training.

Many coaches are frequently concerned about how you are going to transfer what you have learned to a large group of athletes. They say things like “this will never work in my setting” or “I have 50 athletes and 2 coaches and we just don’t have the time”. This may or may not be true but before you tackle the 50 athletes, learn to train 1 person correctly.

I am going to discuss developing your own philosophy to anchor the methods and practical application.

Learning the basic principles of the training process, what are the models of the biological process and why they are important, methods and how to produce the proper biological adaptations.

Assessment of the individual athlete and comparing to elite level performers, what tests are important and why (age and gender specific), building an individualized program based on the assessments guided by the biological principles and methods discussed earlier.

Daily assessments and how to adapt your system to the readiness levels for training, nutritional, and regeneration methods based on the individual.

I’ll be honest – I can’t wait! I brought you in because deep down, I’m a selfish a-hole and I want to learn from you myself.

And last but not least, one question I love to ask is about mistakes. We’ve obviously all made mistakes a long the way, but could you offer up one mistake you’ve made in your coaching career, along with what you learned from it going forward?

Great question Mike.

My first mistake was not having a true philosophy early in my career to guide the training process. I was taking a little from everyone and just throwing it against the wall with no true physiological principles guiding the training.

Second, was thinking the adaptations of a power lifter for example are appropriate for a team sport athlete. They are not because while you may be strong you have neglected the adaptions required to improve the biological power to display that strength for an entire game or match.

One last thing I learned is learn from everyone. There are great examples of performance and mastery from all different types of performers.

Mark, thanks so much for taking your time out to do this interview. Where can my readers find out more about you?

You can find out more about me at my web site, PTC Results Period.

Thanks again Mark! (And you can also find more of Mark’s videos on his YouTube page).

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