Nicholas Ruhl is the Prepare Like a Pro strength & conditioning coach for Caulfield Grammarians FC (Mens). A​ qualified exercise physiologist, he is currently working at Keiser as an exercise scientist.

Highlights from the episode:

  • How he learned to program training & what he learned that was not taught in uni
  • How to make the most of internships
  • What he writes down on his sessions
  • What his typical day looks like as an exercise scientist at Keiser
  • The difference between Keiser and gym / PT studio
  • Career highlights and memories that he’s proud of

Connect with Nicholas:  https://www.instagram.com/ruhls.of.fitness/

Listen: iTunesSpotify

Interview Transcript

Jack: Welcome back to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ podcast. My name is Jack McLean. I’m the host and in today’s episode I interview Nicholas Ruhl. He’s our Prepare Like A Pro strength & conditioning intern looking after the Caulfield Grammarians football program. He is also a qualified exercise physiologist and works full-time as an exercise scientist at Keiser.

Highlights from this episode: we discuss the importance of internships; practical tips for coaches who want to make the most of their career; the importance of journaling and why you need to have a driven self-learning approach to your development.

Before we start this episode, if you want Prepare Like A Pro to manage your football club’s high performance program, which includes strength & conditioning programming and intern, like Nick, facilitating the sessions and individualizing the program to suit the players, email us at jack@preparelikeapro.com.

Let’s get into today’s episode. Thanks for jumping on tonight, Nick.

Nicholas: Thanks for having me.

Jack: Looking forward to our chat, mate. Let’s dive right into the beginning of your journey. At what age did you discover you had a passion for strength & conditioning?

Nicholas: Strength & conditioning probably came a little bit later, but passion for health probably came a little bit earlier. I started training in the gym around 16 or so. And then I got PT qualified. And then I started my undergrad degree after that.

To be honest, strength & conditioning wasn’t a massive passion of mine until probably that third year where I did my internship hours. That was at Rise High Performance in Rowville. And it wasn’t probably until that point that I really started to understand what a strength & conditioning coach does. So, that was really good being down there.

And then from that opportunity, being able to work with Eastern Rangers, the Under 16s, that opportunity came up. And so, moving on to there. That was actually fantastic. Being able to work with a bunch of boys that were really driven to play footy. And just to see at that age how driven and mature they were, which was fantastic and just a great year to be around. 

Jack: Awesome. Thanks for sharing, mate. And before you started your degree in personal training, take us through how you saw your vision and what was your motive behind doing a Bachelor’s degree at that point?

Nicholas: That’s a lot of questions. I think when everyone starts training at 16–18, they always get big chest, big arms. That was probably where I was all set. But then as I’ve gone through my uni degree, it changes your focus onto more of that educated approach, not needing to smash yourself.

And I had a bit of a background of injuries. And that’s where that fueled that exercise sports science background. Because I wanted to know why I was getting injured, more than anything. And so, that led on to wanting to educate myself and then which allowed me to help others in the long run. 

Jack: A hundred percent. And with the Rise High Performance, for those studying their sports science degree and that resonates with them. Like they’d started with their own agenda, trying to better themselves, improve their body or improve their performance as an athlete, whatever their agenda is, and then they started to focus more on the coaching side. How did you get your foot in the door with that internship program? Was that organized through the university? Did you have a contact within that space? Take us through how that started.

Nicholas: It was more that I talked to the career advisors at uni. They led me in a direction of two different facilities, which I emailed and contacted. And just being successful at Rise, which I was really stoked about. I think the first day we went through some educational stuff and that they almost had us shocked at that point. But I was just like, ‘I have no idea what they’re talking about and I want to learn what they are talking about.’

Jack: What were their clientele at the time? Who were they?

Nicholas: They worked with Global Sports Academy. So, working with high school students in their specific sports as well, being able to build on their current sports and athletic development, their strength & conditioning, which is fantastic. 

Jack: And you mentioned at that time that was a light-bulb moment where you understood what a strength & conditioning coach did and how that can differ to a personal trainer. How did they sell it, or what did they show you that excited you about strength & conditioning? 

Nicholas: I think it’s training smart. Push when you need to be pushed. But it’s not about being smashed all the time. So, it’s more educated, more tailored to a specific group of people. I was more focused on the team. So, being able to work with a group of people and be able to use things I’ve learned to actually help them versus just trying to smash them as hard as you possibly can just to make them throw up, basically. So, that’s the biggest difference between the two from that point. 

Jack: Well said, mate. And then the Eastern Ranges, how did you go about getting that experience?

Nicholas: That was a great experience. Like I said, just being able to be around that group. That was almost motivating for me to be down there, just because how motivated they were to be there. So, being able to take on that role and just open the doors a little bit more to actually what a strength & conditioning coach does and setting up more of the conditioning side of things and the strength side of things, whereas Rise is more of the strength side of things.

So, having that nice balance of strength & conditioning in two different facilities just helped me learn. And I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I feel like from that point it’s been a steep incline of learning. 

Jack: I love that approach. It’s a good gem for the developing S&Cs or personal trainers to listen to. So often the conditioning side of our title is missed and undervalued. And I know for myself, I was guilty of spending a lot of time and doing a lot of courses around the strength and power side of things.

And it wasn’t until I started working football, where you start learning about energy system development and load management, and almost bringing in the sports science side of things: how to run fun warmups, dynamic warmups, and prepare the athletes for a high quality session. Or, like you mentioned before, understand that it’s not all about smashing yourself and vomiting, but it’s a deliberate approach and periodized programming and all these sorts of things.

Going through that experience at Eastern Rangers, did you learn programming through practice and through experimenting? And what were your biggest lessons in terms of developing yourself as a coach that you didn’t get from university? 

Nicholas: I think working with Nick Burton, he was a high performance manager for Under 16s, working with him closely definitely taught me quite a few things. And then also working with yourself from this year, it’s taught me even more in terms of conditioning.

It’s just learning, like you said, the energy systems and how to develop them versus just going for a 10K run, like we used to be told to do. ‘Go for a long run to get fitter,’ versus ‘Alright, maybe let’s do 200 meters, five reps. And we’re going to try and do that depending on the person every so often.’

Jack: And when you’ve got that, like if it’s me or myself, how do you go about making the most of those opportunities and the experiences? Let’s say with the Eastern Rangers, what was your role there and how did you make the most of it? For strength & conditioning coaches that are tuned in, what do you think is the best way to make the most of those internships, early experiences?

Nicholas: I think just taking it all in is probably the biggest thing. Just trying to be a sponge, like absorb it all, write things down, try and learn more about it. 

But probably one of the best things I’ve learned from the Eastern Ranges is it’s about almost educating the players as well why you are doing things versus just doing it with them. Like you want to let them know the benefits of why they’re doing the rounds, whether they are going to get a little bit tired, so that you’ve got a little bit more buy-in.

There’s a couple of people in the socials who talk a lot about the buy-in. I think, just from personal experience playing with the footy club, probably towards when I finished, we had a coach that just made us smash it and used running as a penalty for not completing the drills the way they wanted it to. So, I think letting the players know this isn’t about a punishment, this is actually about developing yourself. I think having that approach where we can educate players of all ages, that’s not about punishment, but this is about your benefit.

And that’s why I haven’t enjoyed some parts of the industry where that still is a little bit of a stigma. Where we want to move away from that, but really want to educate why we’re doing what we’re doing, just to get that extra buy-in, so we can actually get the most of our players.

Jack: Thank you so much, mate. That’s refreshing to hear and I couldn’t agree any more. The power of why, no matter what you’re trying to do, when you’re working with a team in any environment is so powerful.

And to be able to present in front of a group is something that you probably don’t get as a personal trainer because you do work in a one-on-one. So, that’s another skill set that you’ve mentioned there, and why it’s so invaluable to get these experiences working in teams and groups. Being able to work on communication and the art of that and how that can have a direct influence on the program.

You mentioned noting things down and potentially it’s like journaling. What types of things would you write down? Is that something that you’re doing throughout the session as the session’s live? Is it after? Is it the next day? Take us through your process on what you note down. 

Nicholas: I actually have a book that I go to. So, like you said, it’s almost like a journal. So, it depends on the scenario. Obviously, if you’re in the middle of the session, you’re not going to run off and write in your book. But if this is something that resonated with you more so through the session, you are like, ‘Oh, that makes a lot of sense’. Or doing seminars, taking down notes that you think is going to be really beneficial. Even queues in a strength room, just make you want to actually get another one through the row. So, anything at that time where you know you can probably use that later and you find it really beneficial, I’ll probably just take a note of that. 

Jack: That’s awesome, mate. And what are some other things that you do to develop your knowledge? 

Nicholas: Well, doing the Master’s was a massive thing, so I probably got better at researching. So, looking at papers more effectively. The books, I love my books. So, just read some of my books, like ‘Periodization Training for Sports’ is a really good one. And just networking, like talking to yourself, talking to others. I think socials is a really good one. I think it’s undervalued in a lot of ways. You can turn your socials into an educational platform, depending on who you follow. But I think that can be a very undervalued area of education. 

Jack: A hundred percent. It does get a bad rep. But I think probably in the fitness industry you’ll have a little bit of everything. But, ultimately, if you know what to filter and what’s relevant for you, it can be really beneficial. And it’s probably something that as an industry we’ve got a lot better at providing value through socials.

What are your favorite platforms? Is it Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube? What do you feel is the most impactful? 

Nicholas: Probably Instagram. It’s something I go to most, just probably out of habit. So, I’ve just turned it into an area where if I go into it, it’s going to be something beneficial rather than just mindlessly scrolling and looking at what’s going around. YouTube has quite a lot of good podcasts as well. So, that’s probably my two main areas that I go to.

Jack: And then going back to career progression. You mentioned your Master’s, how did you go about deciding to do your Master’s in Exercise Physiology? And you mentioned developing research. What are you hoping to get out of that course? Take us through the full-time job that you’re doing as well with Keiser and how that’s helped.

Nicholas: That’s actually a pretty funny story how I started. I didn’t get the marks I wanted and I didn’t get accepted into Deakin for Exercise Physiology, because that’s where I wanted to go towards the end of my undergrad. So, I didn’t get in there.

I took some time off and I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to just give Business a go.’ Because at the start of my degree, I was on the double degree. And then I got about a semester and a half in, and then I was sitting there one day during class, halfway through COVID, and I just wanted to read my books. And my girlfriend was like, ‘If you’re so interested in it, why don’t you just give it another crack?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah. Cool, cool. Okay.’

I think the next week I left the uni and just did a Hail Mary and applied for as many unis as I could. Luckily enough, I got accepted into a couple, which is all I stoked about. And then I ended up getting in La Trobe, which was amazing. Did it in 12 months, which was a bit of a shotgun thing.

Jack: Amazing.

Nicholas: So, that was great. And because of that, you just have your three placements, you’re learning off each supervisor, which is amazing. Everyone has their different approaches to how they go about it. And I had three very different approaches. And sometimes the experiences aren’t always beneficial, but you can always take something from it.

But through that, about two weeks before my last placement, I actually had a chat to the guys at Keiser. I was able to get a position at Keiser, but they only opened up end of November. And so, I already had a position as an exercise scientist with the progression to exercise physiologist, when the accreditation came through.

Jack: Good. A critical move you made there thanks to the girlfriend and your hard work and determination, mate. That’s well done. Fantastic.

Nicholas: It was very different to what I was expecting at the time. 

Jack: That’s great. And to be able to be in an environment where you can see growth, how important is that for you? Like you mentioned, you’re exercise scientist at the moment and then you can grow into the exercise physiologist. Is that once you get accreditation, is it? 

Nicholas: Yeah. When I get accreditation, I’ll just have to do a couple of things for Keiser and then I’ll move into the exercise physiology role. It’s probably going to be another two–three weeks, so not too far to go.

But to be in a place of learning is really important for me. I get bored quite easily. I can’t sit down for too long, so I’m always nursing something, learning or growing. I’m probably a really happy person. 

Jack: And you mentioned the work as an exercise scientist. What would be a typical day at Keiser? 

Nicholas: You’ve got different ones. You can show people how to use the equipment, because it is a bit different to what you’d see in normal gyms, some of the equipment. So, showing setups, but also just working with a large variety of a population.

We have 30-minute sessions where we’re able to push individuals for whatever outcomes there could be. It could be for osteoporosis, or it could be general strength, or, getting a little bit older, they want to maintain their function. Just going through that on a daily basis, which is really good, because you get to work with a lot of different individuals with a lot of different backgrounds. So, it just makes you able to be a little bit more cautious, I would say, in how you deliver your sessions to them.

Jack: Okay. And then, for those that are members at the gym, how does it differ to like a Fitness First or maybe a PT Studio? 

Nicholas: Depending on how you go, you can either work with an exercise scientist one-on-one or you can still train by yourself. But basically the pathway to training, a key there is you’re having an initial consultation with a physiotherapist or an exercise physiologist before moving into some training. So, from there, you get shown how to use the equipment by the exercise scientist. And then if you wish to continue, you can continue having supervised training. If not, we’ll have a review session every training session or so, just to make sure that everything’s in check and that you don’t need to make any changes.

Jack: And you’ve mentioned the experience you got in the weights room from personal training and then, when you played football, the team conditioning and periodization, like management. And then now at Keiser, is it rehabilitation that you’re developing and honing that craft? Is it most strength and power? What are some skills that you feel like you’re improving by being in that environment?

Nicholas: I think having both Caulfield and Keiser together works really well, because what you are not getting in the one, you are almost getting in the other. So, at Keiser it’s probably more of that rehabilitation aspect of it, education on that side. But then at Caulfield you are building up the strength & conditioning, more so on the conditioning side at the moment.

Unfortunately, we tried it. So, I think that’s why I really want to work with the two, having a clinical side on one side, then also having a sports performance on another side. It’s just a really nice balance. One — you’ve got to bring a lot of energy, and one — you’ve got to bring a very clinical mindset towards. So, it’s this nice balance by the end of the week.

Jack: And at the Caulfield Grammarians it’s only been a short time, the pre-Christmas. But what have you enjoyed about running that program and what are you looking forward to for the 2022 season?

Nicholas: Just working with the boys and they’re absolutely fantastic. I think at the start it was more about getting that buy-in. Having that new face down there is always a challenge, which comes back to try and get that buy-in. And because you’re there such a short time, having new face down is a little bit more challenging. But it’s just been really good.

Even just setups at the gym. Like how do you do this most effectively, so they get most of the boys communicating with the coaches to make sure that everyone’s understanding what everyone’s doing in that session? So, it’s probably more that communication. And then just taking the boys through the session as well, and keeping the data on them as well. 

Jack: And I know, mate, how everyone’s raved about the work that you’ve brought, how thorough you are and organized with your preparation. But also your ability to communicate and connect with the athletes, which, as you mentioned, from buy-in point of view is so important. Particularly leading into the Christmas period, because it can be a danger period for footballers: three to four weeks where you don’t see them and all that hard work can be lost.

With that communication and connection piece, what were some things, for strength & conditioning coaches that want to get better in that area, that you found helpful to get success in that area?

Nicholas: I think just having a plan makes a massive difference. Tips from yourself: making sure it’s printed out coming down, so you know what you’re doing and the place to look at it if they want to. But if they don’t want to, that’s fine as well, as long as you know what you’re going to be doing, and you’re prepared. Having that communication with the coach, so you both got expectations of each other, what’s going to be happening in the session. It makes a world of difference. 

Jack: Preparation. Love it. And it’s a good gem and one that, absolutely, is so important. If we’re more prepared than the athletes, they’ll notice that and that care. Not only will they buy in, but also they’ll bring more effort and therefore intensity and quality will be brought up. So, thank you for sharing that, mate.

Looking back over your career now, what’s a memory that you look back fondly at and you’re proud of?

Nicholas: Oh, that’s a challenge. It’s probably been a stack. So, working as a personal trainer for about four years, you build the relationships. I’m still in contact with a lot of the clients that I trained. When I left, I left there for about almost over a year, so still being in contact with them. So, it’s hard to pick out one moment, but there’s definitely some that stand out more.

For instance, having one of my clients transform their bodies and prolong surgery, that’s probably a massive one, just on their knee. Doing a 10K run with clients, half-marathon with clients is probably the thing you remember most doing with them. When they don’t think they can do it themselves and then they’d rope you into doing it with them.

So, there’s definitely a lot of things over my career that stand out, but it’s hard to pick out one major at the moment. But, hopefully, over the next couple of years that might change and it starts to progress a little bit further.

Jack: But it’s the people side that you enjoy the most of.

Nicholas: Yeah, I think so. When you get that close connection to them and you can see them develop from day one to day X, it’s just really cool to see someone develop the way they have. 

Jack: And what about on the flip side, what’s a challenge that you’ve faced that you’ve learned and grown from? 

Nicholas: Probably talking and selling myself. That’s probably the hardest thing that I think any coach struggles with at the start. Being able to talk about yourself is the biggest challenge. And I think everyone struggles with it on a day-to-day basis. But it’s also just being confident in your own abilities, that over time it starts to make a lot more sense. That you trust you know what you’re talking about versus you think you know what you’re talking about. So, I think just time and development helps with that. 

Jack: A hundred percent. Thanks for your openness and honesty on those two. Like you mentioned, they are challenging questions. But I appreciate you sharing insight there.

We’ll go into the lighter part of the podcast, the get-to-know-your-personal-side, mate. These roads are a lot easier and we can have some fun with them. First one is which movie or TV series has impacted you the most and why? 

Nicholas: I’m a bit boring in that sense, to be honest. I can’t sit still long enough to enjoy a TV series or a movie, unfortunately. If I have to say one, it’s probably sporting movies, like ‘Coach Carter’. It probably comes back to that couching title thing again. That’s probably had the biggest impact on me, those movies.

Jack: What about favorite inspirational quote or life motto? 

Nicholas: Probably: ‘Don’t be upset with the results you didn’t get with the work you didn’t do.’ 

Jack: I liked that one. And then in your work life, what are your pet peeves? What makes you angry? 

Nicholas: It’s probably the hardest one. As I’m at the new facility, there’s no pet peeves at the moment. But probably it used to be a lot of quotes thrown around on a day-to-day basis. Probably too many. I’m all about a couple of quotes here and there, but there was a lot of quotes thrown around on a regular basis. That’s probably my biggest pet peeve. 

Jack: A lot of talk and no action, right?

Nicholas: Well, there’s action. But this is a load of talk.

Jack: It was out of whack. Very good. What’s your favorite way to spend your day? 

Nicholas: Probably just going and doing something. Today I was able to go to the You Yangs and just go for a walk around there for about an hour and a half, which was really good. Just going and doing something, probably my favorite thing.

Jack: Outdoors sort of thing.

Nicholas: Outdoors, adventurous, doing something new that I haven’t done before.

Jack: And then on a similar topic. This is a COVID-free world, of course. Favorite holiday destination and why?

Nicholas: Probably, Geelong. We used to camp right next to the river a few years ago now. But I’d love to get back up there at some stage, to see a full drive. This is a great time, had a lot of memories growing up. So, that’s probably one of my favorites. 

Jack: Awesome. Thank you, mate. And the last question, for 2022 what are you most excited about? What’s on the horizon for you?

Nicholas: Just career development. That’s probably the biggest one.

Jack: It sounds like you’ve got busy schedule with your progression from exercise scientist to exercise physiologist, and then at the Caulfield Grammarians. You mentioned that there’s progression there and in a few weeks time when that eventuates, what will that mean for you? Does it change what you do day-to-day or does it keep it the same?

Nicholas: Definitely changes. There’ll be some layover. Some will be same. I think it’s going to be a little bit more responsibility, which I’m excited for, working with more chronic health conditions.

Jack: So, you’d be dealing with some more challenging cases.

Nicholas: Some complexity with the cases as well. It could be standard, just in terms of education on diabetes, but it could be a little bit more complex than that as well. 

Jack: Fantastic. Awesome, mate. And for those that want to follow you, you mentioned the importance of socials. Where’s the easiest place where people can get in contact if they’ve got any questions or queries from the podcast, or just in general? 

Nicholas: Probably on Instagram, which is the @ruhls.of.fitness on Instagram. Or just Nicholas Ruhl on Facebook.

Jack: Awesome, mate. Well, thank you so much again for jumping on and all the great work you’re doing with the Caulfield men’s program. It’s a serious program, they’re great athletes there, and it’s a club that’s been doing really, really well. So, they’re very happy to have you part of the club.

And it means a lot on the Prepare Like A Pro team to have you part of our family as well, mate. So, thanks for jumping on and all the good work you’re doing. And really looking forward to seeing your career progress not only in 2022, but onwards and upwards, mate. Thanks again.

Nicholas: Thanks for having me.

Jack: Awesome. And thanks for tuning in guys, for everyone that tuned in live. You can follow our podcast on all your favorite podcasts streaming, Spotify, iTunes, and all the rest. And if you want to watch the YouTube episode, we’ll announce a six-minute highlight which will be premiered the night before we release this episode.

And in terms of our next guests, we’ll have a couple that will be tuned in our new live segment for 2022. It’s going to be Thursday nights at 8:30 PM. So, stay tuned via Instagram for our upcoming guests on the live episode. And if you have any questions or queries, feel free to direct messages on our socials or email me at jack@preparelikeapro.com, where every Sunday I live stream and answer your question at 6:00 PM. So, I’ll see you guys on the next episode. Cheers, guys.

Thank you for listening to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ podcast. If you liked this episode, it’d be a massive help, if you could like, follow, rate, give a review or even share with your mates. The show is recorded in Melbourne, Australia. Be sure to follow our Instagram page for all updates on our latest and greatest. If you would like to get in touch to suggest a guest or advertise with the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ podcast, please email me at jack@preparelikeapro.com. Thanks so much for tuning in.

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