On November 13 and 14, 2015, I had the pleasure of attending the 2015 SWIS Symposium. SWIS, the Society of Weight-Training Injury Specialists, was created by Dr. Ken Kinakin, a chiropractor and rehabilitative specialist. The symposium was held at the Meadowvale Hilton in Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto. There wasn’t much else in the vast, sprawling wasteland of Meadowvale, aside from the corporate Walmart headquarters, a few fast food spots, some other corporate buildings, and the highway. However, this did not stop strength and fitness professionals from around the world from travelling to the burbs to hear a variety of presentations on training, nutrition, treatment, and rehabilitation. This included personal trainers (who could largely be identified by collectively having the stupidest haircuts, and were the most casually dressed) powerlifters (many a thick torso, tattoos, and long beards that smelled like tiger balm), nutritionists (pre-packed tupperware contains filled with chicken, quinoa, and kale), physical therapists (bro, do you even lift?), and everything in between.
The talks were separated into four different streams: treatment, rehab, nutrition and training, and some of the most well-known experts in the world were in attendance. People who I only knew from anonymous arguments on internet message boards were now standing in front of me, in the flesh! People like Charles Poliquin, Dr. Fred Hatfield, Dr. John Berardi, Paul Chek, Joe DeFranco, Donnie Thompson, Bill Kazmaier, Dave Tate, and many more. The weekend began with a 1,000 lb. squat demo from Shane Church. I marveled at how effortless it seemed and how fast the bar moved. Afterwards, the monolift with the loaded 1,000 lb. bar was left in the hallway, so when no one was looking, I did a few reps with it. Obviously, I didn’t want to create a spectacle and detract from Mr. Church’s accomplishment.
There were also a number of booths set up by exhibitors in the main corridor of the presentation hall. The products ranged from excellent (The Isophit, the isometric training device, which I can personally say is an amazing investment for any facility) to the dubious, such as the holographic body stickers used to supposedly reduce pain and improve performance. Former World’s Strongest Man, Bill Kazmaier, was endorsing these hologram stickers and rolling up frying pans with his bare handsas part of the exhibition. I remembered several years ago when Bill was promoting the “Q-Ray” wristband, which has since been debunked as bogus, no better than a placebo. I was momentarily tempted to question the validity of the hologram stickers, but did not want Mr. Kazmaier to roll my head into a tube of bloody meat. Probably the reason they had him at that booth, to shut down the naysayers with fear of immediate death.
Other products for sale included a rope climbing device, supplements, lasers for laser-acupuncture, some type of scar-removal device, and coloured eyeglasses for light therapy. I was skeptical about many of these products, and felt inclined to save my hard-earned muscle money for the Wendy’s dollar value cheeseburger I would be enjoying later in the day, along with the 15 coffees I needed to stay awake.
The first presenter I heard was Dr. Jordan Moon, who directs research at MusclePharm Sports Science Center in Denver, Colorado.The topic was Advanced Muscle and Fat Physiology, Biochemistry, and Measurements, and the main takeaway from this presentation was that because both muscle and adipose tissue carry water, there is a large margin of error when measuring body fat, both in an individual and between individuals. This margin of error can be as high as plus or minus 8%! There is also a large amount of variation between testing methodologies, so for coaches using cheap body fat scales, this can wildly vary. Don’t get too attached to body fat numbers, and take the readings with a grain of salt. For my money, the best bodyfat assessment is still the dunk test, which was originally devised in the 1700’s. This is where a client would have their hands and feet bound, and be thrown in a river by their trainer. If they float, then they are too fat and need to reduce calories. If they sink and drown, then they are sufficiently lean, and should be posthumously celebrated.
Dr. Eric Serrano then spoke about dietary fats. He began by announcing his dislike for vegetarians and dieticians, which I had no problem with. Apparently, increasing monosaturated fat intake versus polyunsaturated fat intake will help to increase testosterone levels. Saturated fat is not unhealthy, and beef and lard are 54% and 60% unsaturated fat respectively.This was a great relief to hear, as I’ve personally been trying to start a new coffee trend by plunking wads of lard into my morning espresso. The fat content of meat is largely dependent on the animal’s diet, with grass fed meat having a better Omega 3:6 balance. If a woman has more than one child, she needs to replenish her DHA levels, as the first child will deplete them. Flax seed oil is highly oxidized, even if it’s refrigerated. Aside from the occasional tired, sexist joke and inflections of religiosity, Dr. Serrano generally delivered a good presentation. Also, according to the research, oil pulling is effective for killing mouth bacteria. I should have asked if gargling with extra fatty ground beef instead of Listerine has the same effect, but alas, it slipped my mind.
Dr. Fred Hatfield, also known as Dr. Squat, was the next presenter I saw. Dr. Squat was the first (although revealed to actually be the second) man in history to squat 1,000 Lbs.Dr. Squat spoke about the development of power, and gave one of the most enjoyable presentations of the weekend. Speed is king for athletic performance, and the development of power is crucial. The athlete must “close the gap” between their maximal force output and their limit strength, and the faster they can achieve this, the more explosively they can perform. This can be achieved by utilizing Dr. Hatfield’s C.A.T. (Compensatory Acceleration Training) method. Essentially, this means completing reps explosively throughout the entire range of motion, so as leverages become more advantageous, the trainee continues to move the bar as fast and as hard as they can. A rep performed in this manner should not take more than ¾ of a second and one should use at least 60% of their 1RM, but not be so heavy as to slow down the rep speed. Dr. Squat also shared many interesting anecdotes about his career and training adventures, which was quite entertaining. When I asked him if he still trains today, the spry 74-year-old replied, “if I feel the urge to exercise, I wait, and eventually it passes.” All kidding aside, he still lifts thrice weekly and still squats, although not heavy.
Next in the training stream was Bill Kazmaier and Brad Gillingham, discussing “Legendary Strength Training Techniques”. Not so much a formal presentation as a sharing of anecdotes, these two giants discussed their careers in strength sports and answered questions from the audience. Brad, a gigantic tree of a man, seemed slightly uncomfortable speaking in front of the audience, and Bill spoke in a strange, almost stream-of-consciousness style that seemed slightly disjointed at times. Perhaps the holographic technology he was endorsing was someone altering his thought process?
Although not particularly dense with applicable information, it was fun to hear stories about their freakish bodies. Apparently, when Bill was in the 5th grade, he pressed 200 lbs over his head the first time he tried. He also deadlifted 600 lbs at age 18, again, a first attempt. Hearing stories like that certainly makes me consider abandoning my aggressive strength goals and just focus on “toning”. I was hoping someone would dare ask either man about a typical drug cycle that they would have used during their heydays, but out of tact, or perhaps fear, the question never came up. I later had the pleasure of meeting Bill. I asked him if he still trained, and he said he’s solely focused on heart health and doing cardio.
Finally, I went to see Posturologist Paul Gagne’s “Test it-Fix It” seminar,which centered around making postural adjustments to correct imbalances and improve performance. Apparently, many postural issues stem from the feet and eyes, which seems like a reasonable claim. The presentation was interesting, as there was a large amount of information relating to various postural tests and methods of assessment and correction. Paul, a former NHL player, has worked with a number of high-level athletes, and he was an enthusiastic and engaging presenter. I did not know much about Paul prior to this presentation, so seeing him definitely inspired me to take a closer look at his work. However, I doubt I will purchase a pair of “posture socks”, or spend a large sum of money on an isokinetic training device or a Quickboard, some of the elaborate tools he regularly uses with his athletes.
Day two began with Dr. David Leaf,chiropractor and president of the International College of Applied Kinesiology, who presented on muscle testing for shoulder injuries. He showed some simple tests for the shoulder musculature, and used Bill Kazmaier as a volunteer, since Bill has a number of injuries and movement limitations from completely destroying every single one of his muscles at some point during his career. Dr. Leaf’s takeaway was fairly straightforward. Understand the anatomy, test the muscles, and activate them, and give the client tools to continue to do so on their own. Dr. Leaf had a frank, grizzled, no-bullshit demeanour, which was quite entertaining and gave him an air of authenticity, as well as a cutting sense of humour.
I then saw John Meadows, who talked about his “Mountain Dog” training program. I have no idea what a “Mountain Dog” is, but one can only assume it’s an animal that’s very red, muscular, and covered in ropey, pulsing veins. In any case, I will take John’s word on how to achieve such a look. John was very mellow and down-to-earth, and his humility and manner made him very likeable.Essentially, Mountain Dog training revolves around alternating “base” training days and “pump” days, with base days involving a pre-pump activation exercise, an explosive exercise, a supra-maximal pump movement, and an exercise performed from a stretch position. The “pump” days are extra days allocated to improving weak body parts, and are focused on higher reps, lighter loads, and are easy on the joints. John also strongly believes in peri-workout nutrition, which he feels lets him train longer, harder, and with deeper pumps than one could ever imagine. There was no shortage of comic book characters on his presentation slides, which filled my pudgy, geeky, inner 13-year-old with glee.
Eoin Lacey, from the Irish Strength Institute, was next, with “Functional Nutrition for Fat Loss.” Despite an energetic and engaging delivery, Eoin’s presentation was very light on information, and only seemed to rehash Charles Poliquin’s work.Keep good sleep hygiene, manage stress, limit environmental toxins, stop drinking fluoridated water, etc. At one point, Eoin mentioned that one of his children was not vaccinated, which drew murmurs from the crowd. Was this for a legitimate individual health reason, or is it simply more paranoia about toxicity? He refused to comment further on the topic. I’m sure the toxic environment we all currently dwell in may play some role in fat gain for certain individuals, but not as much as some would have us believe. Is fluoridated water really making people fatter? Or is it the pizza, soda, beer, and inactivity? It’s probably the water.
Eoin’s presentation ended quite early, which allowed me to drop into Paul Chek’s presentation. Chek spoke about the four doctors, Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet, Dr. Happiness, and Dr. Movement, and how integrating them in a balanced manner can produce health and happiness.Chek’s liberal use of four letter words and animated speaking style was entertaining, but eventually became tiresome as he waded further and further into the realm of pseudoscience and mysticism. Claims about the vibrational sounds of muscles, chakras, and other esoteric trivia was mixed with occasional nuggets of sound training and nutritional advice. In many instances, the audience was advised to simply refer to his book for information that should have been part of the lecture. If there was a single valuable takeaway from Paul Chek, it would be to be your own scientist, and run your own experiments on your own body. Observe how you feel and react after eating certain foods. Manage your stress and recovery, and try to keep “The Four Doctors” in mind when balancing your life. Sensible information, no doubt, but I can do without the magic talk.
I then had the pleasure of seeing Joe DeFranco, who spoke about increasing the speed of athletes. Before the presentation began, I eagerly groped underneath my chair, hoping that small sample of amphetamines would be taped underneath it. Sadly, this was not a taping of Oprah, and I came up empty handed.Joe, an native of New Jersey, began by warning the audience that he may speak overly loud at times because of his Italian decent. Joe’s presentation was straightforward and practical, and offered some great specific points for training athletes to improve sprint times. Joe uses the 10-yard sprint as a foundational exercise, and gave some useful cues for the movement, such as keeping a steep forward lean (angling the body at about 45 degrees to the ground), maintaining longer ground contact time during the initial drive phase, and swinging the arms up and forward, as if performing an uppercut. He is a firm believer in heavy sled pushes and sled pulls to help train the positions needed for the sprint. Joe has helped many athletes, including some well-known NFL players, improve their 40 yard dash times, so the information he presented was based on real life practice and application. Joe’s presentation was one of my favourites from the weekend, as Joe, with his loud voice and expressive gestures, seemed like a genuinely modest, down-to-earth, friendly guy who has a genuine passion for training athletes. Someone I could see myself have a hard training session with, and then enjoying a large serving of Italian veal sandwiches and pasta together.
Finally, Charles Poliquin presented on neurotransmitter dominance. Charles, biceps disproportionately bulging and demeanor, curmudgeonly as ever, began his presentation by making a joke about Bruce (Caitlin) Jenner, showing a before and after box of Wheaties, one with Bruce and one with Caitlin, claiming that wheat intolerance is real, and will make one so depressed that they’ll feel like cutting their own testicles off. Strangely, no mention of Matt (Janae) Kroc was made.
Originally referred to as “The Five Elements” in an article he wrote a decade ago,Charles has now associated these “elements” with neurotransmitter types as described in Joel Braverman’s book “The Edge Effect”. Most athletes are either dopamine dominant, acetylcholine dominant, or combination of the two. Being dominant in one of the other two neurotransmitters, GABA and serotonin, typically doesn’t make for a good athlete, and Charles did not comment on the training of those types.
Typically, a dopamine dominant athlete will be very driven, and will respond best to high intensity loading. An acetylcholine dominant athlete will be attentive, detail-oriented, have a tendency to over-think, and will respond best to variations in volume. Charles assured us we don’t need studies to validate the science behind this theory, because neurotransmitters are extremely transient and the lab tests are never accurate, and in his experience, the most accurate test is the one given in Braverman’s book. For fun, I decided to take the neurotransmitter dominance test, which was available online. I did see some accuracy in the test’s prediction of my neurotransmitter type. However, the questions were vague and contradictory at times, and the correlations I saw may simply be due to the Barnum effect. For those who do not know, the Barnum effect is the phenomenon of deriving personal meaning from vague statements that could actually apply to many people. Accurate-sounding horoscopes work by this principle. It may only be a matter of time before Charles begins writing training programs based upon astrological signs, and I’m sure when he does, his die-hard followers will defend him until the stars are no longer aligned.
Charles finished his brief presentation with a Q&A period. I eagerly waited for Charles to humiliate some poor, nervous strength coach in the audience with a question that wasn’t to Charles’ liking. The most memorable moment was when someone asked what the cause of declining testosterone was. Charles said that it was largely due to environmental toxins, and differed from country to country. Charles claimed that Spanish men have low testosterone because they watch soccer, and that they tend to cry after sex. The audience member quickly replied with “how would you know?” which sent the auditorium into fits of laughter. Charles himself couldn’t help but laugh.
On the whole, the speakers that I saw were quite good. It was both exciting, and slightly surreal to be amongst so many legends of the strength, nutrition, and rehab world. Considering the cost of admission, I was somewhat surprised that neither food nor coffee was provided, but considering they would have to feed a swath of hungry, hypertrophied fitness professionals, it would have been a vast, perhaps exponentially large, bill. The 2015 SWIS symposium was over, and I could now go home and apply all my newfound knowledge for skin-splitting pumps, blazing speed, beastly strength, crazy PRs, and generally massive, sick gains!