Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Talking with Trainor: Andy Stewart


Ottawa Open Ultimate has received a lot of attention in the past two years regarding their commitment to fitness and their team fitness levels.

The reason for this improvement is due to one man- Andy Stewart. Stewart, the strength coach of 5 time national university basketball champion Carleton Ravens, Olympic athletes, and national level athletes in many sports, has set aside time each month in the summer to introduce ultimate players to serious conditioning and training. It has been an eye opening experience for many. We don't deserve him, and that's why we need and want him.

The sad news is that Ottawa ultimate, and many ultimate players across the country, have a lot to learn about their bodies and about sport specific training. I include myself in this group.

Andy Stewart with Ultimate Athlete Cheryl Wadasinghe

Dedicating myself this off season to an average of 2-3 workouts per week at Andy's dojo sessions, I realize that a VERY GOOD fitness guru is worth their weight in gold. You have to be able to trust your trainer for information on programs and nutrition as they relate to you personally. You need someone to push you when the going gets tough. You need someone that makes you buy in and tells you what you don't want to hear as much as the stuff you do.

Here is an interview with the man my teammates and I respect greatly and curse all at the same time. I think his knowledge and leadership skills really stand out. His contact information is listed below.

Andy Stewart
Open Sessions: Saturdays, 2:30 at the Douvris Martial Arts Center


Compare the level of fitness of competitive Ultimate Players to those of the other sports you work with. Honestly, how big is the divide?

That’s a very difficult question as I haven’t had the opportunity to test athletes in head to head and/or empirically/statistically relevant situations.

That caveat aside, the Ultimate players I have worked with are improving from training and athletic performance perspectives; they are improving their nutrition, getting smart, and trying powerlifting, cross-training – in essence they are doing all the right things. And it shows. It shows in their appearance, their athletic & on-field performance and in their positive outlooks (positive gains, from smart training, usually lead to positive outlooks).

Ultimate, as you know, requires a combination of athleticism & skills that are found in sports such as basketball, football and soccer. This includes aerobic and anaerobic system capacity with less focus on overall power – however intermittent sprints/jumps require optimal levels of burst speed, lateral quickness and leaping ability. If I compare to many of the national and Olympic level athletes I have worked with – it is on these athletic traits where I see a divide (but these cross-level comparisons may not be the most appropriate).

The primary differences are in due to ‘natural’ athleticism and years (often over a decade) of elite training/coaching and competition. By natural athleticism I mean the basic genetic athletic predisposition – such as natural speed (sprinting), lateral quickness and agility (stop/start), explosiveness (e.g. vertical leap) and raw power/strength. This translates to athletes that can run faster and jump higher/longer, change direction more quickly and more often. Good news is that through smart work, focus and nutrition you can force adaptations – you can become a better ‘natural athlete’.

As Ultimate gains in popularity several thing will happen - more competitive level athletes will join, more competitive training programs will be followed (year over year)– and a rising tide lifts all boats if you will. Increasing challenge, focus and competition will require more athleticism! Check out the NBA, tennis, heck even ping pong athlete of old – it is a natural progression for such a young sport.
In Ultimate, the skills components given their precision and timing, also require sport specific skill sets including visual acuity and tracking, proprioception (think balance), muscle memory, footwork, hand eye coordination and reaction/anticipation etc. These are often overlooked when people think fitness.

What are some of the most important muscles for performing on the ultimate field?

Wow… legs, core… What isn’t?

To identify muscles I look at purposeful performance. Ultimate makes use of anaerobic and aerobic energy systems and the focus (muscular-wise) is clearly on the legs as the engines of athletic performance. The quads/glutes/hams/calves provide the basis for footwork, explosiveness, agility, quickness and are the primary movers in the anaerobic (sprints) and endurance aspects of the sport. They are called on for maximal power (vertical/long jumps) and for positional flexibility (marking/tracing). Traditionally, individuals who ‘like to play’ but don’t train the physical components enough (perhaps like highly skilled handlers) end up neglecting their endurance training, sprint training, plyometric and SAQ. The result is a lower possible output on the Ultimate field.
The CORE then becomes incredibly important – as the foundation of movement is critical to the over stability of the athlete in motion. The upper body is clearly required for throwing skill development, efficiency and effectiveness.

However, the ultimate player does need not be bulky – rather explosive and lean. Great dexterity and hand-eye coordination also lend themselves to sport specific performance – what good is the fastest wide receiver if he has no hands? And that every player has to be a QB in effect!
What muscles are most commonly weak in ultimate players? In my experience, the athletes (collectively) have started out at a lower experience level in overall competitive athletic training. They have missed out on years of sport-specific powerlifting, plyometric, footwork, SAQ, resistance training – and so are generally (and I am really generalizing here) weaker in overall athleticism in the legs. Upper body comparisons are not valuable.

Good news again is that now is the right time to change it! So much scientifically proven/validated information that easily accessible, so many committed athletes to learn from etc. – it’s all out there to help the athletes that want to be helped!

Who's the best Ultimate athlete you've seen?

I have had the opportunity of seeing several quintessential Ultimate athletes – and picking one doesn’t do them all justice. Colin Green comes to mind, in Ottawa, as the type of athlete that best exemplifies my vision of an Ultimate athlete. And, he most similar to the athletes I train from high-level competitive basketball √† quick, agile, powerful, explosive - complimented by natural height and length, and bolstered by determination and a kick ass work ethic. I have had the pleasure of training Colin at the Dojo and on the field.

Colin Green Of GOAT (Black Hat)
CUC 2007 Championship Game

What are your strongest and weakest traits as an athlete personally and how does that affect your leadership style?

Interesting question… As an athlete, I have always been strong and more powerful (these are mesomorphic qualities – I gain muscle mass, strength and power quite quickly when I train). In my years of basketball, I was considered hard-working, typically in-shape and actually quite aggressive. Early on I was probably too aggressive for my own good. My weaknesses, physically (for my sport) were in being too short, not long enough, having poor flexibility and I had sport specific weaknesses (no left hand!). There are so many ‘mental’ aspects to sport, training and competition - occasionally these were areas of strength and weakness for me.

Leadership styleI believe I am a social communicator first and drill sergeant second. I see my role as a motivator – to inspire and challenge people (far to many people create barriers for themselves, and fail to overcome them because of weaknesses of the will and the mind!!). Authenticity and sincerity are critical in pushing people to blow threw their self-imposed limitations (and a bit of knowledge). Most importantly, I find that I have been very lucky to work with committed, driven and hard-working people. (If you’ve been to the Dojo, you understand. It is not for the faint of heart). I find that the athletes internal motivators are often more important than my leadership style.
If I had to psychoanalyze – I’d guess that my strengths support a healthy self-confidence while understanding my weaknesses (and working on them) gives me ‘athletic empathy’ and balance.

What are some of the most frustrating things when training athletes?

Things that drive me bananas:
  • Laziness and complacency
  • Dealing with highly-skilled poorly conditioned athletes with healthy egos and an inability to take constructive suggestions
  • People who eat like shit, drink too much, smoke too much, don’t sleep and can’t figure out why they don’t see gains in their training!
Things that are frustrating, but are good problems to have:
  • Athletes who can’t ‘slow down’ – overtrain and hurt themselves
  • Trying to get athletes to ‘buy in’ – some people go on trust, others need to be convinced over a lonnngggggg period of time.
What type of athlete frustrates you?

First and foremost – ignorant athletes – individuals who lack respect for themselves, teammates, opponents, referees and for the game(s) they play. I have very little patience for ignorance… A healthy ego, aggressive style, even win at all costs attitude I can understand and manage – but overall ignorant behavior frustrates me!

The athlete that ‘doesn’t care’ or is defeatist comes in next… You know, the nice person who doesn’t believe in themselves? Can’t get past go – to even start towards self-improvement. I find these people to be a challenge, I enjoy helping them break free, but I have seen some that never believe – and it’s frustrating to see them waste their emotional time…

What are some of the most satisfying rewards training athletes?

There are to many to count… And it has less to do with ‘winning’ and more to do with the journey, the challenges and individual successes. I have truly enjoyed working with Ultimate athletes over the last two years. Making new friends, watching as people blow through personal barriers, achieve personal bests (athletically, aesthetically). I believe that everyone is capable of greatness – if they believe in themselves and have the will to work hard. I have had the wonderful opportunity and pleasure to partake in athletes’ quests for excellence. It is an honour… It’s not about me, but about seeing how people strive, challenge themselves, unite as a team or as friends towards common and individual goals.

The atmosphere that Ultimate players bring to the Dojo – friendly, interactive, supportive while at the same time motivated, with intensity - the desire to be challenged and to challenge with a kick ass work ethic – it motivates and inspires me all the time.

If you could give one piece of advice to all ultimate players, it would be...?

So very clich√© – but I always recommend people get educated, get fit and play your sport… Work on your weaknesses and build on your strengths. More specifically though:
  • Nutrition for performance (get educated)
  • Train for performance (get a trainer, work with teammates)
  • Ask questions
  • Set goals and plan plan plan!!!!
  • Mental training (for competitive athletes)
  • Challenge yourself.
  • Take chances
  • Get advice and constructive criticism.

1 comment:

jhaig said...

That Colin Green's a beast. I bet he eats his Wheaties for breakfast.