Q and A with Nick Grantham of Smart Fitness

This week I have a quality Q and A with Nick Grantham, my friend and fellow strength and conditioning coach now based up in Newcastle. This is a great Q and A, not only because Nick responds unashamedly in true rant style to some of the questions I asked him, but more so because you can get a feel for Nick’s training principles and philosophies without having to listen to that full on Dell-Boy wheeler-deeler accent!! Haha no offense Nick just having a dig in traditional Yorkshire fashion!

Anyway enough….on with the interview! Enjoy!

Hi Nick,

Q: Firstly before we start can you fill the readers in on your strength and conditioning background?

A: After finishing my MSc I started working with British Gymnastics as a sport scientist/physiologist but I wasn’t particularly excited by running VO2 max tests and taking bloods, in fact I was much more interested in the training that went on between the testing.  I decided to take a bit of gamble and sat the first NSCA strength and conditioning accreditation to take place in the UK. Soon after that I took up a position with England Netball which was one of the first posts in the UK specifically for S&C. Around the same time British Gymnastics asked me back as a consultant in a similar capacity. Following this I took up the position of regional lead of S&C in the West Midlands branch of the E.I.S. which I did for 4 and a half years before leaving to open up smart fitness.

Q: Where are you based and how can people get in touch with you?

A: I’m based in the north east of England, Newcastle Upon Tyne to be precise! I’m lucky to be working out of a private football training facility (Complete Football) which is based up on the racecourse (nice environment). I have my own private indoor and outdoor training areas and I can also access some great 4G pitches when I want to mix things up a little!

The easiest way for people to contact me is through via e-mail info@smartfitness.org.uk or they can check out www.nickgrantham.com and post comments there.

Q: Who are you predominantly working with up there at the moment?

A: The split is pretty much 60% general population and 40% sportsmen and women. The general population clients range from people wanting to get back into fitness having taken a short 20 year sabbatical through to people realising the summer holiday is around the corner and they need to be wearing a v-small bikini, and more importantly want to be looking good in it!

I’m also starting to see an increasing number of clients that have picked up an injury and pretty much been left to their own devices in terms of rehab. They have no real idea of what to do and come to me for a structured programme to get them back to on track.

The performance side of things has really started to pick up during the past 6 months (people have finally started to realise I actually exist in the NE – it’s taken some time to break into the NE S&C mafia!). I have a good group of triathletes that I work with (some with GB honours), several combat athletes (Thai boxer, boxer, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu),  and several local club football and rugby players.

I’ve been the strength and conditioning programme co-ordinator for the  Northumberland Tennis academy for the past two years (that’s where you and I first met !) overseeing the programme for their performance players.

I’ve also started working with Northumbria University looking after a number of their scholarship athletes which includes the golf squad. When Davie Wilson (Prop –England Rugby) is in town I usually get a call from the RFU management team to look after him (that is a real pleasure for me – Davie loves his training and always brings 100% to the session).

Q: Tell us a bit about the qualities you are working on developing with these clients?

A: Simple – Gross Athleticism. From general punters through to high performance athletes, the one thing that is consistent is developing gross athleticism. There is nothing fancy about what I do – basics delivered consistently with intensity.

Q: What are your  5 ‘go to’ exercises and why?


1.X-Band Walks – love, love, love this exercise. Hits multiple angles for me – in one drill we work hip, shoulder, scapula, core. All areas that need help in the vast majority of clients I work with.

2.RDL’s  (all variations)– great for posterior chain. I like this because it adds strength whilst also delivering a damn good dynamic stretch (most of my clients have hamstrings like banjo strings!). Take it to a single leg variation and now you have not only a great strength exercise but something that challenges balance and stability.

3.Squat – I like front squat as my end point and will use pretty much any bilateral or unilateral squat pattern to get me there. We evolved to stand up so we need to have strong and powerful legs – enough said!

4.Push Up – If you can bang out good, full ROM controlled push ups then don’t even think about sliding under the bar to start benching. This is a great leveller and another big bang exercise (works just about everything).

5.Inverse Pull – great horizontal row movement that sets the scene for developing upper body strength and progressing onto one of my other favourites, the chin up (oh….I’ve snuck a sneaky 6th exercise in!)

Q: I know you have a successful weight loss programme, whats your view on steady state training? Will people be doing much of this in your sessions?

A: Enough with the steady state cardio BS! If you want to run a 10km or 0.5 marathon then go knock yourself out with the steady state stuff, you need to do some of that in your training, but if your goal is fat loss, then there is no place for slow steady cardio in your programme.

I had a Thai boxer in last week for an evaluation and he ran 5 miles every morning  and then 14 miles every Friday in an attempt to drop weight – holy shit – this was not going to help him drop weight (he does have potential to run  a decent Great North Run time though! ).

Anyway, no. I’ve been there, running junk miles to drop weight and it is not effective. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is what’s needed. Reason people don’t do it is because it’s hard and makes you feel rough! On the Smartfat Loss (see what I’ve done there – Smart Fitness – Smart Fatloss – clever eh!)  programme that I run, we use a combination of strength training, metabolic resistance training (circuits to you and me!) and intervals. Slow steady runners need not apply.

In case you are still not sure – check out the physiques of athletes crossing the line of the marathon and 100m sprint. Which physique would you rather have.

And another thing (you’ve got me started) – Eddy Izzard ran a marathon a day for a ridiculous number of days – yes he lost weight, but he was still fat…..

and one other thing – look at the amount of fat people that complete your local 10km, 0.5 marathon and marathon. All they have been doing in training is running slow and steady – and guess what, they are still fat!

And one other thing – I’ve done a few triathlons and there are plenty of chubbies crossing the finishing line (even when you go to Ironman distances – and all they do all day long is endurance ,endurance, endurance!!!!).

How many fat sprinters are there…..I rest my case!

Is there anyone I’ve left out or not offended!

Q: One area causing some debate in the industry at the moment is core training. What are your thoughts on exercises like squats and deadlifts providing enough of a core training stimulus?

A: I don’t think squats and deads will give you everything you need for a strong and stable core. I think that argument comes from guys that only do squats and deadlifts! Sure the core must be in good shape to be able to complete those movements but I don’t they will hit all the bases. Where is the rotation? Those multi-joint, compound movements should certainly form the foundation of a good programme and will transfer across to a client’s core development but I think you still need to include a variety of stabilisation, anti-rotation and rotation drills. If all you are going to do is squat and deadlift then that may be enough for your core. If you want to sprint, change direction, make contact and dump your opponent on the floor then I think you need to throw some other techniques into the mix!

Q:  How do you stand on the unilateral/bilateral leg training debate? Briefly let us know your views on this.

A: Do both! Look, I reckon people sometimes just make a statement to generate debate. I always come back to the fact that there is no such thing as a bad exercise, just crappy programming. I do believe unilateral strength is very important but I also recognise that there are times when my goal is to develop force and to do that I want heavy loads completed using bilateral movements with great technique.

Q: You have a good article on your site on strength training for children, in fact I will be putting this on my site soon for people to read. For those readers who haven’t read it, what is your general philosophy on strength training for children and adolescents?

A:   Strength training for children and adolescents is essential. I’m amazed at the lack of gross athleticism in the young athletes I see. These kids are supposed to be the future of sport and I see kids that can’t perform simple hop and holds, struggling to perform a decent push up or single leg squat. What has happened to our youth?

1.Way too much time playing sport on computers and not enough time running, hopping and skipping around, climbing up things and falling off things!

2.Far too much time concentrating on early specialisation in sports that don’t need it. There are very few sports (with the exception of something like gymnastics or diving where there is a need to excel as a teenager). I work in tennis and I think there is far too much emphasis placed on the junior ranking system. We produce fantastic juniors who go on to get their arses handed to them when they move up to senior ranks. I’ve seen it in sport, time and time again. Promising young players that never make it as a senior.

When putting a junior conditioning programme together there are some important points to consider:

1.Supervision is key – we often put the least experience d coaches with the junior athletes – WRONG. The coach with the most experience should be working with the juniors because this is a time when things can really get screwed up!

2.Bodyweight and Free weights – mini-machines are the scourge of youth resistance training. Why have we got manufacturers making mini-pec decs, mini treadmills etc. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. They sanitise the training environment and offer a false sense of security (in my opinion). Machine does not = safe

3.Always work on technique, avoid sacrificing quality of movement for quantity of movement. As Mary Poppins said – practically perfect in every way!

Q; I have read your recovery guide, it’s a really good resource. Just briefly outline some of the recovery methods you utilise on a regular basis?

A: The light bulb really turned on for me when I was listening to a talk Vern Gambetta did on training a few years back. Vern spoke about a trend with coaches who were focusing on improving the last 1% of performance, but the same coaches often forget about the other 99%! I took the same idea and thought about relating it to recovery. I was seeing athletes doing a lot of the ‘bells and whistles’ stuff (massage, ice baths  etc) but the very same athletes were drinking red bull, eating carrot cake and not getting enough sleep!  From there I sat down with Mark Jarvis and came up with the Recovery Pyramid and then I put together the training manual (Recovery and Regeneration: The Essential Guide To Training Hard Without Falling Apart).  We basically developed a process, much like training, were in order to do the fancy stuff you had to take care of the basics first. It all links back to the idea of the 24hour athlete.  We maybe only see are athletes 1-2 hours a day and they can potentially go mess everything up in the other 22 hours of the day by not following appropriate regeneration techniques.  So here’s what I do on a regular basis.

I keep things really simply – you’ll be familiar with the recovery pyramid from the training manual. Two things to consider.

1.The 24 hour client – training is not the key, it’s what goes on for the other 23 hours of the day (they can really screw up your programme but not recovering well).

2.The key is to make sure that the client/athlete is working on the basics. I’ve not got a lot of time for people parading aound in compression garments, hoping in and out of ice baths and having a massage unless the have the basics nailed down.

So my advice is to eat a clean diet,get a good nights sleep (quality and quantity) and follow a structured training programme. If you have those three things in place then you are doing well, and maybe, just maybe I’ll let you slip into a slinky lycra number!

Q: What are the key qualities required to be a successful strength and conditioning coach?


1.The ability to coach! Sounds daft but I think this is problem in our industry right now. People coming out with plenty of intellectual intelligence but not a whole heap of practical intelligence. I’m seeing more and more people working in the industry calling themselves strength and conditioning scientists , plugging people into laptops and pouring over excel spreadsheets. I’m not sure why, well, I have a good idea – it’s probably because it allows them to sell themselves to coaches/NGB’s and clients as being something different allowing them to charge more!

Well, I’m a strength and conditioning coach and will always call myself a strength and conditioning coach. So the number one quality is the ability to coach.

2.The next thing you need to do is to  be open minded (don’t believe everything you read…..don’t only read everything you believe). I wish I had thought of that but I think credit has to go to my good friend Alwyn Cosgrove (although it sounds too clever for him to have thought up as well!). The key is to look for information on training from a range of sources and then use your own ‘filter’ to work out what is useful and what is not. I recently delivered a one day workshop for a group of NHS physiotherapists. It was great, me, an S&C coach talking to physio’s about rehab! What struck me was that despite the differences in our working environments and proefessions, they were open to my ideas and training concepts and were keen to find way to work it into their day to day practices.

3.Finally you need to develop your own philosophy (that sounds very grand!). Basically you need to have you own way of doing things. In my talk that I deliver at the EXF-Perform Better seminars I share with the audience the 10 key points that form the foundations of how I train clients. Every strength and conditioning coach should be able to do this.

Q:  Whats in the pipe line for you in the next year?

A: This year is super busy. We have the EXF-Perform Better (www.exf-fitness.com) seminar series which is working its way around the UK. This is a real first for S&C in the UK. You presented  a great session on training the modern gladiator (and I know you are joining us again in Leeds in  Aril) so you know what it is all about , but I’ll let your readers in on what we are doing and how it is shaking things up in the UK.

Traditionally S&C, PT etc kept themselves to themselves (lets face it, S&C coaches can be a bit arrogant and think that PT’s have little to offer – once again, my opinion, based largely on how I used to feel!). I’ve now come to realise that there are some great PT’s out there with a lot to offer which is why we are getting some of the best names in UK strength and conditioning, personal training and nutrition into one room and getting them to deliver no BS seminars that must then have a practical component. If you can’t deliver a practical then you don’t deliver the ‘chalk and talk’ session.

When you come to these events you get the science and the practice..  We have Matt Lovell speaking on performance nutrition as well as a number of leading lights from the PT world mixing things up with the S&C coaches, talking about a range of topics from rapid fat loss, kettlebell training for females, Olympic lifting, performance based conditioning to how to get a cover model physique. It’s a great mix and the formula is proving very popular.

Myself and Duncan French are about to launch our first information product (Prepare 2 Perform –  Olympic Weightlifting Complexes for Movement Preparation. It’s proving to be a bit of a monster to get completed but we hope to have the finished DVD and training manual available in April (the editing team are trying to remove the glare from Duncan’s bald head and make my southern accent a little bit more understandable!). It’s a great resource and we have tried really hard to deliver something that is technically good and informative (can’t wait for the armchair critics to start taking a few pot-shots though when it comes out!)

Other projects on the go include an exciting collaboration with Nike, working on the launch of their training division, SPARQ. That will see us opening up field based fitness monitoring and ongoing training support to grass roots football teams across the UK. It’s exiting to be involved at the start of the project and it will be interesting to see how we move this forward into other sports.

The rest of my time is spent between coaching, mentoring, delivering workshops!

Q: Where can people purchase your products?

A: Well, at the moment the training manuals – Vibration Training (Vibration Training: From Space Exploration to Fitness Club)and Recovery and Regeneration (Recovery and Regeneration: The Essential Guide to Training Hard Without Falling Apart) are available on www.smartfitness.org.uk and you can get The Art and Science of Making Weight at Elitfts (anyone struggling to hit a weight category needs this book!).

Once the Prepare to Perform DVD is launched I will make all the products available at www.nickgrantham.com, so this will be the place to keep an eye on! Your readers can sign up for free!

The guys at EXF-Perform Better are also going to start stocking the Prepare to Perform DVD and training manual.

Cheers mate,

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