The Canadian Sensation: An Interview With Dean Somerset

I am beyond pumped to have Dean Somerset on today for an interview.

He's without doubt one of the nicest people I've ever met, and someone I look to up as a coach and as a person.

I don't want to waste one more second of your time though, so let the dropping of knowledge bombs commence:

1.  Dean, it’s great having you here today.  Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to help drop some knowledge bombs.  Besides being a bad ass, Canadian, voodoo magic strength coach, tell us a little about yourself and what you do.

I work as an exercise physiologist in Edmonton, Alberta Canada, which means I’m used to watching really bad hockey and throw the occasional “eh” into conversation. I train out of a big box gym called World Health, where I’m also the Medical & Rehabilitation coordinator, running all the medical referrals into and out of the clubs to make sure the patients and medical professionals are happy with how we’re doing things. Essentially, I make sure people coming in to us are able to feel better when they leave, regardless of what’ holding them back.

I work primarily with medical management and injury post-rehab clients, which I’m sure sounds just about as sexy as watching Gary Busey floss for half an hour, but it’s something I seem to be pretty good at. I can even get insurance companies to cover the cost of training in some situations (depending on the injuries or conditions of course).

On top of that, I write a kick-ass blog at deansomerset.com, have written some articles for T-Nation.com, Schwarzenegger.com, Men’s Health, and also a couple informational products with some big names.

2.  So like Ron Burgundy says, you’re kind of a big deal.  Anyways, how did you get into strength and conditioning?

Like a lot of strength coaches and personal trainers, I was a competitive athlete in high school and university, but I was pretty bad. Seriously, I sucked. I spent more time in the physio’s office than in practice. As a result of finding a way to injure pretty much every part of my body, I began to take a shine to rehab, initially setting my sites on getting into physiotherapy. Along the way, I realized I wanted to work with people through the entire continuum of health, not just in the clinical side of things, so I got a degree in kinesiology and chased some of the clinical certifications that could help expand my scope of practice.

3.  From our discussions, I know you work with an extremely diverse range of clients, and see a lot of unique cases.  What do you think makes your approach to coaching/training so effective?

In all honesty, I’ve had some real gems of clients to work with. Heart attacks, hip and knee replacements, spinal issues, diabetes, torn muscles, cancer patients, elite athletes, pro hockey teams, chronic pain, surgical repair, and pretty much everyone else you could think of. That’s a typical day worth of client issues, but the really cool thing is that basic biomechanics applies to each of them, and it’s amazing to see that very basic and simple movement patterns can be used with everyone.

Because I have so many unique clients, I always have to ask myself if the normal system of training will apply. If not, it could seriously hurt the individual, and if it does, they could get some significant improvements in their health and function. For most people, they will exhibit some form of limitation in one parameter or another, which will inhibit their ability to do specific movements. Let’s say it’s breathing. By identifying that element and trying to re-set it, you can have a profound effect on everything. This means being somewhat deductive and willing to think on the fly, scrap your own programs and try something different if what is conventional isn’t working.

4.  All good points.  Having an open minded approach definitely sounds like the way to go.  On the training front, what are 5 mistakes you see a lot of athletes and beginning lifters make?  Or, in other words, what are 5 things most people need to spend more time working on?

5 things? Damn, I normally get paid by the word. This is gonna cost you. KIDDING!!!

I think the biggest mistake is one seen in pretty much every athlete, coach and organization out there, which is not spending time paying attention to the fundamentals. Everyone wants to be the next Youtube star or do the crazy visually stunning move in the gym, even if it means they squat like a rusty hinge. Imagine if people treated a squat or a deadlift like a basketball player treated a free throw, meaning they engaged in meaningful practice, outside of competition, on a daily basis. Working on mechanics, set up, follow through, alignment, etc. We would probably have a lot more productive lifters, fewer gym related injuries, and a lot of pretty yoked out beasts running around.

The next mistake is pushing to the temptation of muscular adaptation. We always hear about the importance of de-load weeks or periodizing time off of intense lifting, which means having periods of time where you may feel like lifting until your face falls off, but you have to cool your jets because the program says so. Esentially, muscles adapt to physical stress really quickly, whereas other connective tissue doesn’t. Muscles have satellite cells, which help to remodel the muscle tissue following stress and strain, allowing it to bounce back quickly and with a larger propensity to resist strain. Ligaments, tendons, fasica and other connective tissues do not have these cells, and they’re much less vascular, which means they remodel and recover from stress at a much slower rate. It’s pretty easy to see this when you look at the number of overuse injuries that hit the tendons, fascia, and non-muscular connective tissue.

Third, over-coaching. Training is a process where the individual has to learn. Being the external feedback mechanism that they come to rely on defeats the purpose of trying to get people to learn how to move, control their bodies, and understand what good alignment feels like and to replicate it themselves. Have a client see and understand a movement, then try it on their own. Correct as necessary, and work on one or two big rocks to fix up, and allow them to build through the process. I see all too often trainers trying to coach the living hell out of a movement, then pick their clients apart when they try it themselves, and leave them feeling deflated. Of course they won’t know how to do it if it’s a novel movement. Teach them, slowly and step by step.

Penultimately, trying to kill your clients is not beneficial. It’s one thing to see how much they can tolerate, which has its role in military service and during training camp or selections for sports teams, but for Joe from accounting, he doesn’t need to go AMRAP and leave the gym unable to move for three days, especially after HIS FIRST SESSION. Training should be additive, not negative, meaning it builds on previous successes, and doesn’t reduce the ability to function or see positive adaptation. Simply doing work does not equal training. Training equals getting better.

Finally, trying to fix everything in fitness by focusing on what’s wrong with the industry. We have amazing coaches who see fantastic results with their clients every single day, and get no play. This is the same as the evening news only focusing on the murders and politicians causing mayhem, yet forgetting the stories of the young gusy who helped the old woman across the street, or the volunteers who help someone’s life become immeasurably better while living below the poverty line. There’s always negatives, so let’s focus on the positives. Everything mentioned above is immediately actionable to see positive change in trainers, their clients, and the industry as a whole.

5.  I can’t agree with you more.  I know I fall victim to the over-coaching mistake from time to time.  Well another hot and somewhat controversial topic in the training world is corrective exercise.  What’s your take on the craze?

I think the corrective exercise “trend” is going to be kind of the completion of the training circle. You initially had Arnold and the bodybuilding and strength training world. Then people wanted to train, but were so banged up they needed a more specific program not for bodybuilding, but for doing other things, which is where “functional training” came into play. This was not meant to be standing on a bosu while pulling an elastic, pressing a dumbbell and reciting the trade deadline action from the NHL and saying because a lot of stuff was going on that it was somehow “functional.”

Now you have a version of corrective exercises that talk about getting people strong, but acknowledging the individual nature of the person, how they move, where they have issues moving, and designing a program that will help them move better, feel better, and still get strong. This model builds off of powerlifting concepts, kettlebells, bodybuilding, physiotherapy, elite sport performance, and finds the common denominators in each and how they can apply to the individual in front of you.

We’re also asking a lot of new questions and finding new methods for achieving success with our clients. For instance, we previously were told that stretching increases flexibility. But what about when it doesn’t? Why does it work for some and not for others? Should muscles not respond to normal stretching, what could be the reason, and how could you get through it?

Essentially, focusing less on the muscles themselves and more on what drives them (the nervous system), how they operate together (biomechanics), and adaptive stressors (periodization), we’re now just beginning to apply basic concepts of exercise physiology to a wider breadth of clients, and as a result of it not fitting the paradigm of classic strength training, it’s called “corrective exercise.” I would venture to say that all exercise is corrective in one way or another, working to increase strength, mobility, power and endurance where it didn’t exist before. This is just different, and a means to an end of becoming jacked and tanned.

This is one of the reasons I put Post Rehab Essentials together. I wasn’t seeing some of the basics applied well, especially when it came to injuries or problems that would lead to injuries, so making it as clear as possible and showcasing how the basics could be applied across the board, with adjustments here and there, was the primary goal, and I’d like to think I did a good job of it based on feedback from the close to 500 people who have purchased it. 

6.  Post Rehab Essentials is definitely an awesome product worth checking out.  As far as particular lifts go, if you could do one lift every day what would it be and why?

Squats, no question. However, it wouldn’t be the maximally loaded powerlifter squat. Traditionally, the squat movement was not a strength exercise, but a resting posture, used by civilizations across time. To be able to squat well now and through the life cycle means an increase of available movements, postures, positions, and athleticism that can’t be found by others. The key though, is getting depth and making it easy. Once you can do that, do it often, and never lose it. Once you’ve lost the ability to move, you will have a struggle to get it back.

7.  So a recurring them so far is that movement and moving well is actually kind of important…interesting.  On another front, the fitness and performance industry has really blown up over the past 5 to 10 years, in your opinion, what separates the elite coaches and trainers, such as yourself, from the masses?

I think it’s just a question of hustle. I didn’t learn about this thing called exercise by working a 9-5 schedule Monday to Friday. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been on the go. In high school I went to class, played sports, and then worked part time to pay for sports and save money for university. In university, I went to class, lifted, and worked part time to pay for groceries, text books, and bus passes so I wouldn’t be broke by student loans when I graduated. After school, I worked 16 hour days 6 days a week for close to a decade. I’ve only just started reducing hours to 50-55 per week instead of the average (AVERAGE) of 70+. These weeks involved training 50 plus client sessions, researching or reading up on different techniques to help with problems that weren’t being addressed, writing programs, and testing them out. On top of this were the courses, workshops, seminars and extra classes I’ve taken to better myself, even though to attend many of them I’ve had to travel to the other sides of the continent.

If you look at the best of the best, they have no off switch. When everyone else is out partying with friends on Friday night, they’re reading, working on programs, trying to get some new articles written for different publications, networking or building new products, and essentially doing what is necessary to be successful. Success is therefore a byproduct of hard work and consistency, not something that simply falls in their lap.

Even looking outside of training. Lawyers typically work the same hours when they’re looking to step up to partner. Accountants, same thing. Doctors are insane with their hours, typically working triple shifts and sleeping at work, then being on call when they get home. You don’t learn how to exceed expectations by working the average day and week. You absolutely can’t knock the hustle.

8.  So glad you said that.  Wish more people understood the value of some quality hustle and hard work.  On a more personal note, what’s been one of your proudest moments as a coach?

I don’t know if I could pick just one, but there is one that stands out to me.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Q4eAkMykms

Jessica had a bunch of things working against her. First, after having two kids, she got a divorce. Single with two young kids, she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. After 16 surgeries and complete reconstruction of her shoulder (including complete removal of her pectoralis major, and re-sectioning her latissimus dorsi to provide some anterior stability to her shoulder), 6 months of chemotherapy, 4 months of radiation, she was T-boned by a car and crushed her wrist on the opposite arm. She spend 18 months off work, couldn’t move her hand more than a few degrees, and had some serious pain issues from it.

We started with basic shoulder stretching to break up scar tissue that was restricting her shoulder movement, some metabolic work without stressing her arm and shoulder, and some nutritional work. Did I mention the chemo fried her thyroid and lead to a complete hormonal shit storm through her entire body? Yeah, that was there too.

Months of intense focus and hard work later, she dragged my ass across the gym floor.

The feat itself wasn’t all that amazing, but what she had to overcome in the meantime was mind numbing. Most people would have just given up and called it a day, but she’s a fighter in every aspect of her life. She got a settlement from the guy who T-boned her, is now 5 years in remission, owns her own home, and is dating a new guy who seems to be a good fit for her and her kids. All I did was direct her energy to the right places and let her loose. She did the rest, and I couldn’t be more proud to work with her.

9.  Seeing as everything we’ve discussed thus far has been training related, let’s mix it up a little.  If you could give yourself one superpower what would it be?

I’d probably want the ability to speed up and slow down time at will. It would come in really handy with deadlines and paychecks.

10.  Lastly, and perhaps the most important question of the interview:  favorite professional wrestling move you’d like to be able to perform on innocent bystanders?

This is going way back in the day, but it would be the C.M. Punk Pepsi Plunge. Youtube that shiz and see what happens when it gets too real.

Dean, just wanted to thank you again for your time and an awesome interview.  I didn’t know so many knowledge bombs could be dropped so quickly.  People, be sure to check him out if you haven’t done so already.

Dean and Tony Gentilcore (two of my mentors) are putting on a workshop in Los Angeles on November 22-23 that is going to be out of this world.  I was lucky enough to attend the first ever Excellent Workshop, and it was without question one of the best two day workshops I've ever attended:  content was great, presenters were entertaining, and it proved to be an exceptional networking opportunity.  If you're a trainer looking to get some continuing ed credits, learn cool stuff, network with some of the biggest names in the industry (the rumored guest drop ins are pretty ridiculous), or just want an excuse to go to California, then this is your ticket.  If I've already sold you on it already, then here's a link to the checkout page.  If, however, you'd like to read more about what the weekend will entail, then go here.