Alex Nurse is a Strength and Athletic Performance coach in Toronto, Ontario who works with business clientele, weekend warriors, and athletes; and writes for a handful of training and performance publications. He is the co-owner of Richmond Hill Performance.
What kind of sports did you participate in as a kid?
As a kid (prior to high school), I actually spent a lot of time playing many recreational sports in city or rep leagues. Soccer was my first love and I played with JJ Picinini rec center when I was really young, from 6-8 years old. When I moved from West End Toronto to downtown Toronto on the esplanade, where I would spend the next twenty years or so, I continued to play a lot of soccer, Mosquito baseball, and basketball. However, I began to take a keen interest in the sport of track and field- particularly the Sprint Hurdles event, and when I was 15 or so I began to specialize in it. I started to train and compete with the University of Toronto Junior Blues.
What adversity have you had to overcome an an athlete and as a trainer?
As an athlete I would say that my biggest challenge was dealing with chronic shin splints. The largely misunderstood flare-ups that I dealt with put me at odds with my coaches in university who recruited me (I was at Windsor University). It got so painful sometimes that after practice I would barely be able to walk to the ice baths. I had a couple of healthcare practitioners I would see in Toronto, but in reality, nothing I did was helping to fix the problem in any permanent way. As a result, I just could not train as hard as I was required to and still recover in time for subsequent practices or competition(s).
In retrospect now, especially after spending some time studying neurokinetic therapy and learning from people such as Dr. Dooley and David Weinstock, I realize that shin splints was resulting from poor foot function and movement and this was probably misdiagnosed- or not diagnosed at all, by my practitioners at the time. So it wasn’t that my coaches didn’t care if I succeeded, they just didn’t know how to help me and I probably looked like a big wimp, limping around all the time!
For post 45 athletes new to strength training, what key exercises should they focus on?
This question could open up Pandora’s Box but to simplify it, I think there are two things they should do. The first is to train more often in the frontal (think side to side movements) and transverse planes (think rotational/anti-rotational movements). Life for most people already has enough saggital-plane movement (including time spent sedentary),and decades of doing only that can result in “uneducated” muscles and joints, leaving individuals susceptible to injury. Often, 45+ who have not done much or any weight-training will have no apparent physical problems when they start. But then, in a short period of time, joint/tissue problems that have been lurking beneath the surface often spring forth like ninjas. Usually these problems create a domino-effect, snowballing very quickly.
The second thing is to remember to spend time at different places of the Speed/Strength curve. Don’t just lift and expose your joints and muscles to the same type of repetitive abuse all the time. Get out (or stay in the gym if you’d rather) and use your newly potentiated muscles and connective tissue to do some jumping, throwing, and translatory movement (running/sprinting, etc.). Training along the entire Speed/Strength spectrum can do much toward providing ameliorating movement and recovery for your body that you can’t get any other way. It will also help to make sure that your weight training(which is generally quite rigid and not very dynamic) doesn’t make your regular, everyday movement stiff and slow or less coordinated.
For the advanced post 45 athlete who has plateaued, what advice would you give them to take things to the next level?
I think there are four main things to look at here. Mainly, study your training log (hopefully by this point in the game you know to keep one!) and honestly examine your programs for the last six months. When doing so, look out for these variables:
- How often/how long have you included exercises that you are both good at and familiar with? You need to make strategic changes to your exercise selection. Core lifts will always remain somewhat the same, but change the grip type, or the stance, or the rep focus (eg. Squats usually start eccentrically by unracking the weight and then lowering it. Therefore, once in while, start from the bottom up instead), etc. With accessory exercises, you MUST include things that you have never done or don’t often do- especially things that you suck at!
- What speed are you doing your reps at? In other words, what tempos are you using (how long do you spend in each stage of the repetition- the Eccentric [lowering], the Concentric [raising], and the pauses that occur in between)? Take a more repetition-focussed approach to your training by using a tempo(s) that is in-line with your desired training adaptation. I find that many trainees use the same tempos for thesame exercises, day in andday out- including myself. But this will not work forever!Learn to better match your repetition speed to your training goals.
- It is all too easy to get caught up in the same repetition brackets as well (usually that would be somewhere in the six to twelve rep range for more intermediate and advanced lifters). This is deadly to progress. You need to cycle constantly between high volume programs of both low to medium intensity and low volume programs of moderate to high intensity; and you need to practice different inter and/or intra-set methods for accumulating tension.
- Lastly, and this goes for everyone- spend more time recovering. Recovery methods are a huge missing link for ensuring that progress does not stall. Mineral baths, massage, napping, sleeping, grounding, yoga, more aerobic activity, consistent and efficient de-load weeks, and unique supplementation protocols are all ways you can get this done to maximize your potential for continued growth.
What is your one injury prevention tip?
A warm-up that includes only ramp-up sets prior to your first work set isn’t good enough after thirty years old. You need plan your warm-up specific to your injuries, weaknesses, and nagging troubles. The best injury prevention tip is to turn your warm-up into a “prehabilitation” sequence that also excites your nervous system. It doesn’t have to be long, but it does have to be specific to common problem areas (low back compression, shoulders, etc.), as well as to maintaining optimal joint range of motion for all major joints systems. Boyle has a nice little warm-up sequence I like to quote:
“Tissue Quality -> Tissue Length/Breathing -> Tissue Temperature -> Activation”
Add that to the above mentioned recovery programs (plan for at least one recovery method for every two to four workouts) and boom, you will help to safeguard yourself against injury. Also, do more unilateral training. Like way more!
What 3 supplements provide the most bang for your buck for the post 45 athletes looking to maximize their performance in the gym?
Both from experience and things I’ve picked up from mentors and colleagues, I’ve learned that just like when it comes to programming, simple is best when it comes to supplementation. Take effective stuff that you are sure will work for the reasons you are taking them. My top three bang-for-your-buck supplement protocols would be:
- Egg Shell Membrane (great for continued joint health). For the arthritic population, however, this might change to the combination of: Omega 3’s, water quality, gluten avoidance.
- Betaine Hydrochloride OR the combination of Lime & Mineral Salt (for improved stomach acid production and digestion/assimilation). Probiotics and prebiotics are also great additions to this.
- Creatine HCL for when you train hard and often at very high volumes or intensities; or at least a Zinc & Magnesium (ZMA) supplement for phases when you aren’t. However, if you’re training at all, you should probably always take a ZMA!