‘S & C isn’t an end in itself, it’s a means to an end.’ Martin Evans – Olympic S & C coaches interviewed Episode 62
Martin Evans, strength & conditioning coach for the English FA, who previously worked as Head of strength & conditioning for British Cycling shares his journey into S & C and how he doubted if he has chosen the right profession early in his career.
Martin outlines his vision of physical preparation and how he implements a program for different sports.
Furthermore, we discuss
- How he got into Strength & Conditioning
- His darkest moment
- His best moment
- His advice to a younger Martin Evans
- His advice to young and aspiring S & C coaches
- His coaching philosophy
- His core values
- Why S & C coaches are able to transition easily from one sport to the next
- The person that has influenced him most
- How to manage expectations
- How to use personality profiling
- The commonalities and differences of the 2 most successful Sprint Track Cyclists in history
- How to deal with decisions you don’t agree with
- The success factors of British Cycling
- A typical training day in the life of an S & C coach
- How to design a training program
- His interview nomination
- His motivation to write a book about strength & conditioning for cycling
- Where can you find Martin Evans
Christian: In this interview, I’m joined by Martin Evans, Martin is a strength and conditioning coach for the English FA. He previously worked as head of strength and conditioning for British Cycling over two Olympic cycles.
His most notable successes, having worked with British cycling, Martin has been involved in more gold medal campaigns than he has fingers on his two hands.
Martin: Thanks, Christian. Thanks for having me.
Christian: Really cool.
How he got into Strength & Conditioning
Christian: How did you get into strength and conditioning?
Martin: It’s a bit by chance if I’m honest. When I left school, I realized that I enjoyed biology. What I didn’t realize at the time that I started to look at courses in university was that I actually really enjoyed human physiology.
So my first attempt to go into university was to study genetics, which I thought was where my career path was going to lead. After a couple of weeks, I quickly realized that that wasn’t the life that I wanted and the love of the sport that I had from playing was the route I wanted to go down.
My first attempt to go into university was to study genetics, after a couple of weeks, I quickly realized that that wasn’t the life that I wanted, and the love of the sport that I had from playing was the route I wanted to go down.
I then transferred university to Cardiff University and took on Sports and Access Science degree. It was really through the time there where one of my key lecturers, a guy called Hugh Wiltshire, opened me up to the idea of strength and conditioning and that as a career. That’s what started me thinking about what I wanted to do. It went from there really.
Christian: Then you also worked for a rugby club at the same time. Was that simultaneously while studying or after your study?
Martin: It was pretty much immediately after, once I started my post-grad. Again, the guy, Hugh Wiltshire, he worked at Cardiff Blues, which is one of the regions in Welsh rugby. I spoke to him about gaining experience and opportunities in that area.
So I went to watch a few of his sessions and then he linked me up with a guy called Tristan Berman. He was very gracious and let me come into the Academy at Cardiff Blues for a couple of weeks. That’s where it all started and then I contacted another region, the Warriors, which a guy called Steve Richards was leading up.
I went there for probably about six months. This was before the time of internships and organized work experiences are very much off my own back. I even seem to recall writing a letter to go and ask if I could go to a club rather than sending an email or message or any of the more modern things.
So that shows how old I am and how long ago this was. Then after that, it grew. I did some part-time work with the Cardiff Blues age/grade program. So this was probably everything from under 12 up to under 16’s.
I started to put in place a program of physical literacy across those age groups. That was alongside working with the Blues Elite Player Development group. Then eventually I did a couple of months leading the Academy before moving on to Sport Wales.
His darkest moment
Christian: Can you recall your darkest moment as an S & C coach?
Martin: Yes, I can quite vividly. It was during that time in rugby. The work that I’ve been doing part-time with the Elite Player Development group and with the age-grades had come to an end and the guy that was my Manager from the Academy, he’d moved on.
So I was currently filling that role which was the last couple of months in the Academy. It was an open application and then even though I was doing the job, I didn’t get the job. I think I was about 27 years old at this point.
It left me wondering where I was going to go into the industry from that point on. It took a little bit of time to figure out if this is what I really wanted to do and how I was going to do it because that route that I was on and been doing for a couple of years, it closed down quite quickly. So yes, that was probably the darkest moment.
Even though I was doing the job, I didn’t get the job. It left me wondering where I was going to go in the industry from that point on, because that route that I was on and been doing for a couple of years, it closed down quite quickly.
Christian: Which year was that?
Martin: That was in 2007.
Christian: And you started with GB Cycling in 2010-11, right?
Christian: How did you recover from that moment?
Martin: Well the money that I got paid out, I used to go out for a few drinks quite a few nights initially. Then I’d applied for a couple of jobs at that time as well. In all honesty, I was considering going into more coaching rugby route and had actually been offered a role working within the Blues region as a Development Level rugby coach.
I was pretty close to accepting that, but I’d also tentatively applied for a role working with Sport Wales Institute. But I didn’t hold out much hope of getting it if I was honest because I thought like most things, they work in circles and they probably had someone earmarked for it already.
But I went to the interview, I performed reasonably well I guess, and then by chance, the day after going out and spending some of that money, I got a phone call offering me a job. But at first, I thought it was one of the boys I’d been out with winding me up.
I thought that’s a terrible joke to play, but it turned out it was real. That led to that whole different world that I hadn’t really thought about. From leaving Union, I’d only really thought about working in rugby and probably working in Welsh rugby, if I’m honest.
Christian: That’s how life goes at times, right? I never thought I would work with BMX Supercross and Track Cycling, but it turns out to be quite good so far.
His best moment
Christian: What was your best moment?
Martin: It’s hard to pick one if I’m truly honest. I know a lot of people will gravitate towards the outcomes of supporting athletes and working with great coaches and things. But for me, the thing that really floats my boat about S&C is the process of putting a plan together towards some outcome, because you often can’t dictate whether you win or lose.
There’s a certain degree of chance and numerous other elements that go into it. But doing as much as you can to control the kind of process of getting to that endpoint and managing it as best as possible is probably the thing that I enjoy most.
A lot of people will gravitate towards the outcomes of supporting athletes and working with great coaches. But for me, the thing that really floats my boat about S&C is the process of putting a plan together towards some outcome, because you often can’t dictate whether you win or lose. There’s a certain degree of chance and numerous other elements that go into it. Doing as much as you can to control the process of getting to that endpoint and managing it as best as possible is probably the thing that I enjoy most.
I guess there are a few instances where I think that’s been really good and it hasn’t always led to a really successful outcome. I think working with Grant White who was the BMX coach for British Cycling during my time there was probably one of the most enjoyable working relationships I had with a coach and athlete Liam Philips, at the time.
Liam never quite achieved the Olympic success that he was probably capable of due to a variety of circumstances. However, I felt the process that we worked through and the plan that we put in place was probably one of the most enjoyable and best times over that kind of four to a five-year period that I was there in my career so far.
There was a similar story around supporting Helen Jenkins in triathlon as well, and it was a really tight-knit little multidisciplinary team. We actually drove to their house twice a week to deliver and combine S&C and physio service.
Again, she never really achieved the Olympic success that she was capable of. But it was the whole process of putting together that plan to try and get her in the best shape possible to the games, which didn’t quite pan out. But what I did enjoy was the ride getting there.
Christian: That’s really cool. What did you learn from these moments?
Martin: The key thing that I learned from these moments is not to focus on the outcome. It’s to enjoy the process and work with the people. S & C isn’t an end in itself; it’s a means to an end.
S & C isn’t an end in itself; it’s a means to an end.
I think the things that those two examples illustrate to me more than anything else was that you need to understand the event. You also need to understand the people that were invested in that endpoint, like the angle they’re coming at it from.
So then you need to figure out how your part fits within that. S & C on its own is not going to win a medal that’s showing unless you’re an Olympic Weightlifter essentially. It’s only a small part of the puzzle. It’s got to be integrated and work together with all the other parts in unison because if it’s going off at a different tangent, then that’s when things go wrong.
So it’s like making sure that everyone’s on the same page. That’s probably the key thing that I’ve learned from that. Whereas in my younger days S & C was the be-all and end-all. It was at the expense of other things, I think, and those examples taught me to think differently about it.
To be honest, I got to give credit to some of the people that I worked with at British Cycling to help me appreciate that. Like Paul Barrett made me think differently about that and then numerous other sorts of physiologists and things that I work with during that time as well.
His advice to a younger Martin Evans
Christian: If you could travel back in time and you meet a younger Martin Evans what would you say?
Martin: It’s probably that same point is if I was to start down a career of S & C again, it would be to not view S & C as an end in itself. It’s not necessarily about getting your athletes better numbers in the gym; it’s about the sports performance.
Take time to understand the sport and how it’s played and what the people that you’re working with are trying to achieve. Then make sure your solution fits that purpose and not the other way around. The rest of the program shouldn’t revolve around the S & C program.
It’s not necessarily about getting your athletes better numbers in the gym; it’s about the sports performance. Take time to understand the sport and how it’s played and what the people that you’re working with are trying to achieve. Then make sure your solution fits that purpose and not the other way around.
Christian: Did you have difficulties with that? I mean in terms of confrontation earlier on, you said some people helped you with that, but you emphasize that point now twice. So, were there some conflicts along the journey?
Martin: I think yes. As with most Strength & Conditioning Coaches, there is always conflict with either coaches or physios. I guess probably part of that journey is understanding how all those bits meet together and how they come to the endpoint.
I can’t remember specific circumstances, but I remember certainly there were conflicts with physios around me wanting to push athletes on to get better scores. Maybe in reflection, there was a balance between what they were saying and what I was saying.
I guess that’s the thing is about the point of appreciating other people’s perspectives within that and everyone’s well-intentioned. Everyone thinks they’re doing the best thing for that athlete, but potentially you got to take a step removed to appreciate the global picture, rather than just they need to lift 5 Kg more on that squat.
In reality, 5 kg more on that squat at that moment in time is not going to make much difference in the grand scheme of things and particularly if it costs somewhere else. I guess that’s the thing. My philosophy for impacting performance is essential to maximize that athlete’s performance potential and minimize the cost to our athlete, rather than just doing things for the sake of doing things.
My philosophy for impacting performance is essential to maximize that athlete’s performance potential and minimize the cost to our athlete, rather than just doing things for the sake of doing things.
I guess early in my career, I didn’t really consider the cost implication side of things. That cost could be the negative effect it has on a technical practice the day after or the negative effect it has on the athletes’ well-being the next day because they’re in a box.
So I think considering the bigger picture of it is really important, which sounds really fluffy and not very how I think quite often. That’s probably one of the big learnings I’ve had over the years.
His advice to young aspiring Strength & Conditioning Coaches
Christian: What advice would you give young and aspiring S & C coaches?
Martin: The easy ones that you’ve got to be committed to it. I think the way the industry is going these days it’s like what’s going to set you apart from the thousands of other people that are also heading into that career path. I guess when I started it wasn’t that it wasn’t competitive, but it was far less competitive than it is now.
You’ve got to be committed to it.
You look at the number of universities that are producing graduates with strength and conditioning related degrees. As far as I was aware, there was none really when I graduated in 2003.
It’s just a different market place these days. So I guess the key thing to inspiring people is what’s going to set you apart because when I’m recruiting now I look at CVs and things like that and they’re ten a penny like it’s a fairly standard CV that people present.
They go to university, they do a post-grad and then they’re saying they want to be an S & C. I don’t think it really fits anymore, so I think the critical thing that usually aspiring S & C Coach is lacking is time in the trenches.
The critical thing that usually aspiring S & C Coach is lacking is time in the trenches.
So how are you going to get your time in the trenches coaching athletes and working with them to make them better? That’s the thing that makes a difference between a good S & C and a bad S & C. It’s how you work with those people and the athletes to make them better.
It’s not necessarily what you know. Obviously, that is important to a point, but if you can’t relay that information, then they’re never going to get do what you say anyway.
Christian: How do you find out? Experience is something that you can see on a piece of paper, but how do you find out whether someone has relevant experience to work alongside with you?
Martin: Well in the interviews that we run, we always try and assess that. Admittedly, it’s only a snapshot of that person, but it gives you an idea. So you can first stage look at what they’ve written down. Is there a time-based experience?
But that doesn’t tell you the whole picture of what they can actually do when they’re in those situations. So I think you have to expose them to that and assess how they react within that. There are numerous ways of doing that, none of which are ideal because it is like I said, only a snapshot.
But that’s the best we got at the minute. I know that some organizations that I’ve seen have started running a day or two; they deliver to athletes within that organization for a day or two. Then they make a judgment at the end of that. But that’s obviously very time-intensive but I think that’s probably the thing that’s going to tell you most about how that person operates.
Christian: So it’s kind of an assessment center thing?
Martin: I can’t remember who it was. It was a conversation I had a while back, but they were inviting one or two people in. It was the end of that process and then they were saying that this is your group over the next two days. Because that really puts it to the test as opposed to other situations that are much more contrived.
You might have a 30 or 45-minute window where you’re looking at their ability to coach, but it’s obviously much longer-lasting than that. The key things within those windows you’re looking for is their ability to build rapport with the athletes and then direct what they’re doing. This is your challenge to build a rapport in that time frame for the assessor, the candidate, and the athlete.
It doesn’t always hold true that if that person does it in that short time frame that is going to be how they actually approach things long term. This is where that more detailed in-depth, one or two-day assessment center type thing might be of benefit.
His coaching philosophy
Christian: So switching gears, more S & C related questions. What is your coaching philosophy?
Martin: As I said, it’s the idea of maximizing performance impact while minimizing cost to the athlete that drives a lot of my thought processes.
The idea of maximizing performance impact while minimizing cost to the athlete drives a lot of my thought processes.
Then once you’ve figured out how that fits within the framework of what that athlete or team is trying to achieve, it’s then looking at the people within that that you need to work with and how you’re going to work with them. That’s how I roughly approach things I guess.
His core values
Christian: What are your core values as an S & C coach?
Martin: That’s a good question. I’ve done this so many times in various organizations. Honesty is important to me. I think that it’s so critical to be an honest person and to work with honest people because that helps create that environment of high challenge and high support, which I think is essential to any kind of organization.
It’s critical to be an honest person and to work with honest people because that helps create that environment of high challenge and high support.
So, I do hold myself to that standard of being honest in everything I do. I try to be open-minded. I think if you’re not open-minded, it doesn’t really fit with the high challenge, high support. If you’re fixed, it’s very challenging to operate because you’ve only got one or very few modes of operation.
I hold myself to a high account on things as well. I think if I said I’m going to do something, I go and get it done and if I don’t, I probably beat myself up about it. Those would probably be the three core things that jump to mind.
Christian: I want to challenge you on the honesty thing. I fully agree with that, but you’ve worked with athletes who I think if they’re in the right frame of mind they could do anything. I’m in the fortunate situation where I also have some athletes, if they’re in the right frame of mind, they’re capable of beating anyone any day.
So sometimes I think in these instances, you have to bend honesty a little bit, just to avoid doubts and avoid anxieties.
What’s your take on that?
Martin: No, I agree. That comes back to knowing that person, the approach, and I guess what you’re saying isn’t not being honest. It’s being momentarily specific to that person to help them believe that they’re going to go and do. I assume you’re talking about those moments in time where there’s this little wobble mentally, and you have to reaffirm that what you’re doing is on track even though it may not be.
So yes, I do agree that that is something that does happen, but I think 99% of the time, being honest and having high integrity is critical. As I said, it sets that environment of high challenge and high support.
I think that’s ultimately how organizations and teams grow is by being completely open, transparent and honest with what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Being open to that criticism will challenge those things. Then equally supporting each other to get to the point where it is going to function.
That’s ultimately how organizations and teams grow, by being completely open, transparent and honest with what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.
Christian: No, I fully agree with you. I don’t think it’s necessarily being dishonest. I’ve been in situations where I’ve been asked what I think. I thought that if I really say what I think then, the effect could be detrimental in the short term.
Martin: Yes, it’s a good point though but 99% of the time I’m honest.
Why S & C coaches are able to transition easily from one sport to the next
Christian: You’ve made a career change from cycling to football. Very often in S & C, the longer we work with a sport, we are seen as an expert in that particular sport. So if you would have to explain to someone why you are capable to make a transition from a sport like cycling to a team sport or a field sport, what would you say?
Martin: The principles of how I approach the problem of cycling are transferable to the challenge we’re trying to solve in football. I didn’t start in cycling. It was never my kind of sport, as such.
The principles of how I approach the problem of cycling are transferable to the challenge we’re trying to solve in football.
I made gross mistakes at the start of understanding the sport to the point where I didn’t really understand the difference between a sprint athlete and a more team pursuit athlete. It was just track [cycling] to me.
I have never intended to work in cycling, however, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in cycling, but I always wanted to go back to a more open field-based chaotic sport. I didn’t actually ever think I’d work in football, but I do, so that’s quite interesting.
But yes, I think it’s not necessarily about your expertise in what you know from a strength & conditioning perspective. It’s how you look at the challenge that you’re posed with and how you solve that.
It’s not necessarily about your expertise in what you know from a strength & conditioning perspective. It’s how you look at the challenge that you’re posed with and how you solve that.
So I have a model in my head of analyzing the event demands. Essentially, I look at the athlete or the team in relation to those event demands and that’s your gap analysis. You need an understanding of the direction that you need to go from, from a physical perspective and then putting in place an appropriate monitoring system around that.
That’s essentially how I operate and I think that is transferable to whatever sport. Then if you understand strength, you can apply different training methods and things to different challenges that you face. So whilst the challenge of cycling was how quickly and how much force can you create while pushing down, football presents different challenges.
So can a player decelerate once they’re up to the top speed of 9 meters per second? Can they then reaccelerate their center of mass in the opposite direction to press someone with the ball to go and chase someone else? So in my belief, as long as you understand the key principles, you can apply that to whatever sport you work with.
As long as you understand the key principles, you can apply that to whatever sport you work with.
Christian: I fully agree with that. I just wanted to hear your thoughts.
The person that has influenced him most
Christian: Which person has influenced you most and why?
Martin: There are quite a few people that have influenced me. I guess going back to the cycling times, probably I’d say the biomechanist influenced me most, Paul Barrett, around how I think about the problem that I’m trying to solve.
Going back to that model, he made me think from his work of biomechanics, how he tries to answer those questions. He asked me a lot of questions about the high challenge, but I guess he also gave me a lot of support to help me understand the biomechanical principles of what we’re trying to do. That’s probably been the biggest influence on my career.
In terms of S & C, there are obviously lots of people that have helped me along my journey. Hugh Wiltshire was the guy that sparked my interest in it and helped me find that first work experience. Tristan Bevan gave me the first work experience, alongside Steve Richards and Chris Toombs as well. These were all the rugby guys back in the day.
Then obviously the people that offered me the job in Sport Wales when I was at the darkest door. So yes, there’s a number of people that have influenced where I am now and how I think about things. More recently, some of the colleagues I work within the FA have opened up new lines of thinking for me.
So, my boss, Bryce Kavanagh is a top operator. I really enjoy working with him and he’s made me think differently about it. Also, my colleague Ben Rosenblatt made me think differently and challenge my thought processes in the way that I operate. I think between us and the rest of the department, we’re going in a good direction.
How to manage expectations
Christian: So when we’re dealing with individuals in sports, everyone has their own expectations and their own opinions on things. Sometimes the opinions of them are not necessarily what you think needs to be done. How do you influence change? How do you bring your point across?
Martin: It depends on the people and it depends on the context of how you’re trying to address that change. So we use insights profiling quite a lot to understand people’s personalities profiles. Everyone responds differently to a different kind of challenge, so it’s based on Myers-Briggs typology.
That would be my first thing. It’s trying to understand the person and what they want from that meeting. From there is then to formulate an argument that gets what I want from it, but also supports and acknowledges their needs. That’s probably how I approach things now.
It depends on the people and it depends on the context of how you’re trying to address that change. It’s trying to understand the person and what they want, then formulate an argument that gets what I want from it, but also supports and acknowledges their needs.
In the early days, I would probably just go on in, this is what needs to be done, told them straight and then got really annoyed or frustrated that they didn’t agree with that line of thinking. But that’s obviously not the way to go.
I think there’s a time and a place for that. I think taking time to understand that another person’s perspective and understand what they value within that conversation is critical to if you are going to influence to get the outcome you want. It’s something that I’ve thought of more and more as I’ve got older.
The bigger the organization, the more people you’re trying to, at least keep aware and potentially influence. So understanding their needs and what they value is critical to that whole piece because they could certainly derail things that you’re trying to do, even though they’re not that closely linked to it if that makes sense.
Christian: Yes, it does make sense.
How to use personality profiling
Christian: And the personality profiling, that is for colleagues or also for the coach-athlete relationship?
Martin: For all in the FA. In cycling, it was mainly just for staff. So essentially what you get is there are four main types. It just gives you some clarity as to how those people like to be communicated with and also how they don’t like to be communicated with. It gives you an idea of that person.
It gives you some clarity as to how those people like to be communicated with and also how they don’t like to be communicated with. It gives you an idea of that person.
So you get a logical type who likes detail processes. So if you are presenting something to them, you would present something that has detail and the process and you’ve considered every option.
You get a red type, which they like short and sharp. So they usually like detail as well, but you then obviously give a much more punctuated version of the blue one, but it’s bold. So it’s just basically ‘be bold, be gone’. That’s the kind of catchphrase I think that goes with red types.
Then you get the green type which is very high in empathy. So if you were pitching to someone that has high degrees of empathy, it’s almost considering the impact that it has on the people, of the thing you’re going to go and do.
A practical example, let’s say you are planning an eccentric training intervention, and you were pitching to the coach. The athletes you were suggesting that you do it on, you’d be saying that this is how they’re going to feel and this is what can be done to mitigate that feeling type thing. So you would give that kind of consideration.
The yellows are your energy giver. They just want to bounce ideas around. With those guys, you might present them the thing you’re trying to do, but then ask them for their feedback. You could tell them that you want to bounce some ideas around. So it’s just having slightly different tactics or approach for each of those different types.
The commonalities and differences between the 2 most successful Sprint Track Cyclists in history
Christian: You’ve rubbed shoulders with two of the most successful male sprinters in the history of the sport. What would you say were commonalities and differences between the two?
Martin: Their commonalities would include their determination and drive, which is second to none. That’s the key thing that both of them possess in abundance. Their ability to operate under pressure, I’ve never seen people operate under such high degrees of pressure so calmly.
I’ve never seen people operate under such high degrees of pressure so calmly.
Those are the two main things. Within that is their personal responsibility in driving their program. They would often come with their own ideas of what they were going to do and when they were going to do it as opposed to waiting for their program to arrive.
I thought that was great and that was again, a very enjoyable experience because they knew themselves. They spent significant time training. One had spent more time training than I’d been coaching S &C when I started working with him, so why wouldn’t I listen to him? So yes, those are probably the key things.
I guess the differences between them, one of them had the ability to just turn off and turn off at ease. So if he wasn’t on, he would just be super-chilled and super-relaxed. Some people thought he may come across as ignorant or arrogant, but he wasn’t. He was just in his own little world, doing his own little thing.
It’s really interesting to watch because I think that’s what separates him from other elite sprinters, is that ability to switch it on when he needs to. Equally, he was able to turn it off when it doesn’t need to be on. I hate the term, but the twitchy explosive types, if they are on all the time that’s draining.
He’s obviously developed his ability to switch it on and switch it off when he needs to, and even not just in a moment, but for long periods of time. So talking like an Olympic cycle type thing, his ability to scale it down for a year or so to recover from the efforts of the Olympics and then build it back up when he needs to be there. I think that’s a really important skill for that type of person to be able to have.
Then there are their different personalities around that. Chris [Hoy], for example, was very humble all the time. He would always take time out to say hi and things like that, whereas Jason [Kenny], because he was in his own little world, that’s where he came across as maybe ignorant or arrogant to some. He wasn’t; he was just in his own zone, preserving his energy essentially. Yes, those two are a very interesting contrast.
Christian: I’m just hypothesizing here, but to the personalities, I would classify one probably a bit more extrovert and the other one introvert. Actually, for introverts, it takes energy if too many people come to you and speak to you.
I can speak out of my own experience, so it can come across very often as if you don’t care or you’re arrogant. But I guess it’s like too many people produce too much stress on you.
Martin: Yes, I understand.
How to deal with decisions you don’t agree with
Christian: In a team of coaches and support staff, everyone is wearing his own hat, and you touched on that before a little bit. If there are decisions taken that you don’t agree with, how do you deal with that?
Martin: I try not to get emotional is my first thing. So I think once emotion comes into it, it takes it into another different conversation and it’s much more about how I think I feel. Whereas I think you’ve just got to stay calm and logically discuss the rationale for why you disagree with it.
You’ve just got to stay calm and logically discuss the rationale for why you disagree with it.
I think once you start going down that other track, then you’re much less likely to come to a resolution because if they’re not already emotional if it’s a more confrontational thing, it probably likely is you almost need to bring it down.
But if they’re not emotional, if you stir up that emotion, then it almost certainly will make it emotional on their part as well. That’s where conflict is likely to happen and resolution is less likely to happen.
The success factors of British Cycling
Christian: Talking about British Cycling, I personally don’t believe in secrets, but what do you think of from your experience, what was the strength and / or is the strength of British Cycling and its success?
Martin: I think the key thing is the investigation. Certainly, from the time that I was there, it’s the investigation into all areas that can impact performance and everyone’s aware of what the overarching goal is. Then it’s up to them to look at their own disciplines or areas as to how they’re going to get to that endpoint.
The key thing is the investigation into all areas that can impact performance and everyone’s aware of what the overarching goal is.
The key strength of the organization from the time that I was there. So obviously, there’s the aerodynamics team, there’s the physical performance team, which encompassed nutrition, physiology, strength and conditioning. There’s the technical tactical aspect of the coaches linked with the video analysis of that.
I think all of those things combined and as long as the plan is clear and the direction is clear, then the sum of those parts is very good. I think it’s when you get in those situations where one part is pulling away from what the overarching vision or mission is for that moment in time. So that kind of ability to coordinate that I think is critical for how they operate.
Christian: So this, I think it was David Brailsford who said, “Leaving no stone unturned”.
Martin: Yes. I was avoiding going down the marginal gains route because I dislike that comment, but it is that. Sometimes the gains aren’t marginal. They’re actually pretty large. So I think to call them marginal gains, maybe downplays the importance of some of the things that were being done.
Sometimes the gains aren’t marginal, they’re actually pretty large. So I think to call them marginal gains, maybe downplays the importance of some of the things that were being done.
Christian: I don’t have an inside view of what happens in British Cycling. But I think this marginal gain has been a little bit taken out of context. I think discussions have gone often too much outside British Cycling, just from what I’ve experienced.
Too much towards marginal gains, rather than looking at the big rocks, but again, I’ve experienced everyone’s like, “Marginal gains, marginal gains.” but there are also the big rocks.
Martin: Yes, it’s the cherry on the cake, rather than the cake itself idea. I think Dave Brailsford actually said something about marginal gains at a later date and his analogy was around steak and peas. So it was words to the effect of “don’t focus on the peas unless you’ve got the steaks” type thing, which goes to your point of marginal gains, like a 1% gain in something is massively trumped by a 10% gain in something else. So why would you not focus on the 10% rather than the one percent?
Christian: Or even you forget what gave you the 10% and then go for the one percent.
Martin: Yes, exactly.
A typical day in the life of a Strength & Conditioning Coach
Christian: How does a typical training day in the life of an S & C coach look like?
Martin: Well, in my old job or my current job?
Christian: Maybe both.
Martin: They were very different. So in my old job [British Cycling], a typical day would usually start with some meeting, depending on which day it was. It might be a meeting with a coach about the training structure for the week, or with the medical team about an athlete’s availability to train that week or any modifications needed.
That would usually be first thing in the morning and then typically a gym session in the morning for 10 till 12:00 with the classic cycling gym session times. Then we would have lunch.
Then probably another meeting of some description; maybe something more longer-term planning orientated. Then we’d observe track session in the afternoon; track typically in GB 2:00 till 5:00. Then probably that’s about it for an average day in cycling. There are a number of different iterations on that, but that was generally the structure of most days that I was there.
Obviously, working in international football is very different. There were distinct day types depending on whether we’re in a camp or not. If we’re in a camp, then the days are much more routine, just like how you think a club football team might operate.
So you might have one or two training sessions. There will be session brief, some time for treatment and strapping, individual or physical preparation leading into the football session Then there is the football session and then some recovery. Then if it’s a double day, then it’s essentially repeating that or on international camps, you might be doing game analysis or build-up for the next game if you’re in a tournament.
I guess my routine week to week, because we’re only 50 to 60 days per year together as a team because of the international windows, it’s much more meeting heavy about putting in place plans for those camps.
Also as I have a role in departmental leadership and management, there are a lot of structural things around how we operate and how we’re going to deliver to teams. We’ve got sixteen teams across the men’s and women’s pathway and we’re trying to develop a consistent way of working. So certain responsibilities within that which requires quite a lot of meeting time with various stakeholders that are important to that process, both internally and externally.
How to design a training program
Christian: How do you design a training program step by step?
Martin: The first thing is going back to that process that I work through, which is understanding the event. So you’ve got to identify what’s important to that event and then coming up with a way to assess the athlete against those event demands.
You’ve got to identify what’s important to that event and then coming up with a way to assess the athlete against those event demands.
This can be through some kind of testing or profiling type and then looking at how you can use certain training methods to change those parameters. For me, that’s where it falls out and then essentially you write your program based on that. So you understood the event demands, you’ve tested the athlete against that and then you’ve identified the areas they need to work on.
I always try to minimize weaknesses and maximize strengths. I think it’s quite easy to do one or the other and then you end up short changing yourself. If you don’t minimize your weakness, that’s the thing that’s going to hold you back or break down. If you don’t maximize your strength, you will lose the thing that makes you an elite athlete.
So then that puts you in a worse situation than where you were at the start. Making sure you get the balance right between those things and then put in place that process of consistently monitoring that training intervention to see if it’s making the effects you thought it was going to. Then you go through that cycle again and adjust the program.
His interview nomination
Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?
Martin: I haven’t seen the guy that sparked my interest in S & C for a long, long time, Hugh Wiltshire. I’d be fascinated to see what he’s up to these days.
His motivation to write a book about strength & conditioning for cycling
Christian: You’ve written a book or co-authored a book. It’s about cycling strength and conditioning for cycling. What do the readers get from that book?
Martin: The book is designed for the amateur cycling market. It’s not aimed at elite populations because those guys will have that support anyway. The book stemmed from my co-author Phil Bert’s previous book, which is around Bike Fit.
So he was talking about how these amateur athletes are just out getting on their bikes, spending long durations in the saddle and having a host of implications. Bike fit is one of the things that they go to in order to manage the pain that they get. But then one of the other big things that they weren’t really doing was any off-bike work.
So the book is essentially to help them figure out what kind of limitations they might have from a physical perspective. It starts at a very basic range of motion level and then builds it up to range under control and then strengthening positions and patterns.
The book is essentially to help them figure out what kind of limitations they might have from a physical perspective.
It’s kind of a self-help book to understand “these are my limitations; this may be related to the pain that I feel or the kind of inability to do the things I want to do” and it’s like “how can I address them systematically across time”.
Check out Martin’s book Strength and Conditioning for Cyclists: Off the Bike Conditioning for Performance and Life [disclosure: this is an affiliate link, hence if you purchase the book through this link, I will receive an 8% commission of the book’s price from Amazon]
Where can you find Martin Evans
Christian: Where can people find you?
Martin: I am on Twitter, somewhat intermittently. However, I’m more of a voyeur than a poster though, but let me check what my handle is. I tell you what. I’ll come back to you next. It’s not even on my phone anymore.
That’s probably the best way. If people are interested in getting in touch, then direct message me because I’m terrible at replying to more global messages.
Martin Evans’ Social Profiles
Christian: Martin, thanks a lot for your time. It was awesome.
Martin: Always Christian. It’s great to chat.