View Phil's staff profile
Can you give us an overview of your role at St Marys within the S&C programme?
I am a Senior Lecturer for the BSc in Strength and Conditioning Science and have a Ph.D. in bioengineering.
From a teaching perspective, I deliver biomechanics and anatomy S&C content, and have recently focused more of my teaching around philosophical approaches to S&C and developing professional skills. I also play a prominent role in the advertising of our S&C programme, utilising our open days and social media to display the quality of teaching, coaching and research from our students and S&C team.
What is your history with S&C?
I was a self-employed personal trainer before I joined St Mary’s in 2010. Alongside my teaching role I delivered S&C to a number of TASS athletes and was the head S&C coach for Ealing Trailfinders RFC. I have worked with a number of athletes from different sports so I wouldn’t say I have a specialism.
It was former Programme Director for S&C at St Mary’s, Jon Goodwin, who inspired me into S&C. I was always more interested in the teaching and research side of S&C as I was always more interested in investigating what effects human performance rather than the applied aspect of S&C coaching. This reflects the direction my career has taken.
What do you feel are the key qualifications to be a good S&C coach?
Ultimately, to become a great S&C coach you need to coach regularly. That may seem too simple, but people seem to forget that not one course is going to turn you into a great coach. Coaching is going to turn you into a great coach. This includes coaching S&C, coaching sport, coaching youth athletes, coaching the elderly, coaching someone who has never done physical activity outside of school. These are all interactive experiences which force you to think on your feet and make decisions based on what you’re seeing in front of you and your current scientific understanding of human performance. To go alongside your coaching, I recommend a degree in S&C, like the one we deliver at St Mary’s. Our degree will provide you with a good level of scientific knowledge, much like other courses. However, our S&C degree will teach you the skills to become an independent and critical thinker and a problem solver.
Our S&C degree will teach you the skills to become an independent and critical thinker and a problem solver.
For example, we want each student to view each coaching session with an athlete like a mini research project. You provide an intervention (the training session) based on your own investigation (needs analysis using research and previous testing and monitoring information), you reflect on your findings (how did the athlete perform?), you use these findings and your scientific knowledge to guide the generation of your next intervention (make changes to the athlete’s programme) and then you re-test (the next training session).
Being a scientist and being a coach have a lot in common, with many of the skills being transferable between disciplines. At St Mary’s we develop these skills through lectures and seminars, where we use open discussion forums and practical tasks to challenge conventional thought on training, critique new ideas, and reflect on our decision making. We also work alongside many professional clubs to provide work placement opportunities so students can practice these skills in a professional environment.
These skills are also essential before going on other courses as you’ll be able to process new information more effectively. You’ll be able to critically analyse this new information and use it to guide your coaching decision making, rather than take everything at face-value. I’d also recommend any aspiring S&C coach to go through the accreditation process for the UKSCA, NSCA and the ASCA as many employers look out for these qualifications.
Can you talk us through your main research interests?
Due to my own misfortune with injuries I’ve taken an interest in the biomechanics of lower limb injury. For my doctoral thesis I am investigating the use of a musculoskeletal model as a clinical tool for assessing knee osteoarthritis. I’m currently supervising a number of dissertation projects on the effect of factors (injury, fatigue etc.) on abnormal lower limb mechanics during sporting movements and how this predisposes athletes to injury. I’m also currently writing a grant to run a number of student projects on Paralympic powerlifting performance.
I have a great interest in bioengineering techniques to assess biomechanical function and hope to work with the bioengineering research community to help investigate injury and human performance.
Discuss how an S&C coach can apply their research to their practice and where you see the potential benefits to the community?
My investigation into lower limb injury has a health and a S&C strand. Currently, my health research strand is making headway as we are investigating if a musculoskeletal model known as FreeBody can be used to assess knee osteoarthritis (OA) in elderly patients. Knee OA patients have demonstrated changes in lower limb movement which alters loading in the knee joint, and muscle forces.
For example, the tibiofemoral joint (the articulation between the tibia and femur) has two compartments, the medial side and the lateral side. An increased proportion of loading in one compartment can be indicative of the presence of OA in that compartment. Using the model, we can estimate the loading of the knee and potentially use this information to guide rehabilitation interventions to slow down the progression of the disease. So far, the use of the FreeBody model for assessing knee OA has shown promise so we hope to progress its use to a clinical environment very soon.
Get as much experience as possible. Not only will it look great on your CV alongside your education, but it will show you have a passion for the industry and the initiative to seek new challenges to help develop your coaching skills.
From my S&C research strand, our current investigations focus around movement and force expression deficiencies in reconstructed knees following ACL injury. The biggest predictor of knee injury is previous injury, and following an ACL rupture the ACL on the contralateral leg also becomes more susceptible to injury. Understanding how the reconstructed limb expresses force during sporting movements, any movement compensations, and how these qualities may be influenced by other factors (fatigue, strength etc.) will hopefully be able to help provide better return to play criteria. I hope to also use the FreeBody model to further our investigations in this area.
Do you have any advice for those entering S&C? What advice had you previously received and / or what would you like to have been told earlier?
Get as much experience as possible. Not only will it look great on your CV alongside your education, but it will show you have a passion for the industry and the initiative to seek new challenges to help develop your coaching skills. Developing relationships is such an important part of being an S&C coach. Get experience developing relationships with a wide variety of athletes and coach’s and this will greatly improve your decision-making skills in S&C. Also, and this may seem obvious, read everything. Research, blog posts, non-fiction books on popular science, all of these sources will help you develop your own critical skills when processing information.
How can we find out more about your current research and / or applied practice?
I use Twitter as my main research profile ( @ThePricep), where I disseminate my recent papers and information on my teaching. I also have a research gate profile. I also use Instagram ( @thepricep) to document any physical challenges I’ve recently done. My own sporting scrap book.
You previously had a number of knee surgeries. Tell us about how the principles and practices of S&C have helped you in your rehab process?
I’ve been a bit unfortunate with my knees. I ruptured my right ACL in 2012 during a weightlifting competition, and then ruptured my left ACL in 2013 playing rugby. We think a bone fragment caused by the second ACL reconstruction may have led to the repetitive development of scar tissue in my knee. Regardless of its aetiology I needed two more arthroscopies on my left knee to resolve the problem. 4 knee surgeries in 4 and a half years. However, this experience created my interest in the biomechanics of injury and really developed my critical and decision-making skills. For example, I would utilize research (known regeneration of the new ligament, muscle and limb asymmetry benchmarks) and my knowledge of the sporting requirements of lower limb function to develop task-driven criteria, which ultimately progresses to a level of physical competence which is optimal of returning to competitive sport.
Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone really improves your own S&C decision making as you constantly learn what you need to your body to adapt to new environments.
All 4 of my rehabilitation interventions from surgery were different, despite the surgeries being relatively similar. That’s because returning from injury is unpredictable and never linear, so I had to regularly auto-regulate my training and sometimes change the order of importance of certain criteria to maintain my progression. However, my S&C process of making these decisions remained the same. Week by week my rehab would create a set of problems I would need to solve, and I would utilize information I’ve seen from my training, discussions with other coaches, research, and my task-driven return to play criteria, to guide my reflective process and auto-regulate my rehab training.
You recently went on an expedition to altitude. Discuss how you used S&C for your recent trip to altitude? What benefits did you obtain from this for your expedition?
Yes, I recently climbed Mt Elbrus in Russia, which is the highest point in Europe (5,642m). It was the first time I’d ever been above 2000m and under a year after my 4th knee surgery so I was unsure how I was going to handle this challenge.
In preparation for the climb I worked with fellow S&C lecturer Emily Cushion in our Performance Education Centre (PEC). Through general training and rehabilitation, I was strong so I had a good base to work with. We therefore worked on three specific qualities for the mountain:
- we focused on improving my work capacity, both cardiovascular capacity and musculoskeletal capacity, so I could tolerate the stress experienced while climbing over long durations.
- we developed lower limb eccentric strength and control as high levels are required for the descent phase of the climb, and
- we used strongman-type training to provide instability and represent the unpredictable nature of the mountain, which forced me to learn how to stabilize more effectively.
My work with Emily made a huge difference as I completed the climb and experienced no pain at all in my knees. I’ve continued this type of training as I now plan for future expeditions. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone really improves your own S&C decision making as you constantly learn what you need to your body to adapt to new environments. I recommend this approach to anyone looking to get into S&C.