Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hero of the Week #1: Mike Boyle

Welcome to the first post in a (hopefully) weekly feature I'm starting.  Each Thursday I'll bring you a description of one of my personal heroes, somebody who exemplifies some set of virtues I find particularly appealing or interesting.  Not all of these individuals is necessarily a paragon of all that is good and decent, but each will serve to illuminate some aspect of good character in my eyes.
I'm not doing these in any particular order, so don't get all cranky about who was first or who hasn't been addressed yet. 
My first hero is Mike Boyle.  Mike Boyle is a well-known strength and conditioning coach.  He coaches the Boston University hockey team and has a couple of facilities where he trains a number of professional athletes as well as regular people.  He has released a few products, including a great book I would recommend to anybody about functional training, a bunch of DVD's, and so on.  He is associated with Perform Better, though I'm not sure exactly how, and it's one of my favorite places to buy training equipment.  I know of him mostly through reading a few of his articles and through podcast interviews.  He's been on the Fitcast a couple of times, on Superhuman Radio a couple of times, and is on The Strength Coach Podast every week.
Philosophically, Mike is best known as one of the most famous proponents of functional strength training.  Basically, rather than having his athletes do bodybuilding routines or whatever, functional training is all about tailoring routines so they address the movement patterns specific to an athlete's sport.  Mike is not the only guy to say things like that, of course, but he's one of the better known in the field today.
So why is Mike Boyle my hero? Well, let me start by saying that I don't actually know him, I'm going by what I've heard him say, and I've probably listened to 30 hours or so of interviews with the guy. 
First of all, he is open minded.  He's not training his athletes the same way, or with the same movements, as he did five or ten years ago.  He's constantly changing his training to reflect a growing understanding of strength training.  And he doesn't let ego interfere with his knowledge.  I've listened to him change his training methods based on his own ideas, but also based on criticism from physical therapists (Gray Cook) and even lesser known personal trainers (the whole CNS burnout thing, if you follow him).
Here's a relatively successful and famous strength coach who is willing to listen to and consider the opinions of relative nobodies, if their ideas make sense, and is willing to throw out the conventional wisdom to try some fairly radical training methods.
He also doesn't buy into a philosophy of training and ignore real world results.  The guy tests everything - not as in publishing scientific papers, but by training real athletes and measuring the results they get. 
He's been famous recently for saying that he doesn't have his athletes squat anymore.  Squatting heavy puts a lot of load on the spine and doesn't mimic any athletic movement other than the powerlifting squat.  In athletic events we almost always push off one leg, not both.  So he started having his athletes do one legged squats or rear leg elevated split squats.  That way they need less weight to work the leg, reducing the load on the spine.  They also work the hip adductors and abductors, which need to fire to maintain the level pelvis, in a way that isn't required during the two legged squat.
Nothing about that seems crazy, but the guy's been lambasted in online forums for walking away from a movement that's considered the cornerstone of serious strength training. 
He's open minded, but only to things that make sense (as oppose to some people whose minds are just open - too open - and have no logical filters at all).  He's constantly trying to find new things that work with his athletes, despite having achieved a large measure of success with his systems.  He's willing to gain knowledge from anywhere.  And he's constantly striving to learn and grow within his discipline. 
I'm not saying that Mike's necessarily right about everything he says.  I do think that he's right about most of it, and I think that with his general attitude, his methods are only going to get better as he experiments and learns. 
To me, the kind of intellectual honesty that Mike exemplifies, the willingness to entertain new ideas and test one's own theories against reality, then discard them if they don't work, is both rare and highly valuable.  He may not be the smartest coach in the world (I mean, he might be, but I don't know) but he's going to work to get the best answers he can with the information available.
In short, Mike Boyle is my hero.  Listen to some of his interviews and see if you can't tell why.

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