Jean-Benoit (JB) Morin is Full Professor and the Head of the Sports Science and Physical Education Department at the University of Saint-Etienne (France).
He is a member of the Interuniversity Laboratory of Human Movement Biology (LIBM), and an associate researcher with the Sports Research Institute New-Zealand (SPRINZ) at Auckland University of Technology. He obtained a Track & Field Coach National Diploma in 1998 and a Ph.D. in Human Locomotion and Performance in 2004.
JB’s field of research is mainly human locomotion and performance, with specific interest in running biomechanics and maximal power movements (sprint, jumps). He has edited a textbook (Biomechanics of Training and Testing, Springer, 2018) and published over 150 peer-reviewed scientific papers.
Highlights from the episode:
- JB’s mentors and influencers
- Tips to improve max velocity
- How JB gives feedback and cues to athletes
- Drills to improve hip extension
- How he upskills himself
Connect : https://www.instagram.com/jb.morin.1/
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Jack: Welcome back to the ‘Prepare Like A Pro’ podcast. My name is Jack McLean. I am the host and in today’s episode I interview JB Morin.
He is a Full Professor and the Head of the Sports Science and Physical Education Department at the University of Saint-Etienne in France, a member of the Interuniversity Laboratory of Human Movement Biology and an associate researcher with the Sports Research Institute New-Zealand (SPRINZ) at Auckland University of Technology. He obtained a Track & Field National Diploma in 1998 and a Ph.D. in Human Locomotion and Performance in 2004. JB’s field of research is mainly human locomotion and performance, with specific interest in running biomechanics and maximal power movements, for example sprinting and jumps. He has edited a textbook ‘Biomechanics of Training and Testing’ with Springer, 2018, and published over 150 peer-reviewed scientific papers.
Highlights from this episode: we discuss the importance of having objective feedback, mainly using GPS and video analysis; understanding the individual you’re coaching and their limiting factor; the importance of range of motion and biomechanics; why strength & conditioning coaches need to spend more time understanding sprinting.
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Let’s get into today’s episode. Welcome, JB. Thanks for tuning in, mate.
JB: Thanks, Jack. And thank you for inviting me. Really good pleasure.
Jack: We’re very grateful to have you on and let’s dive right into the beginning of your journey or story. At what age did you discover you had a passion for biomechanics sprinting and performance?
JB: Well, I guess the passion came with my own practice when I was young and asking questions about how to run faster, because I was not that fast. I was practicing football and middle distance running. And then I went down to track events, like 400 and 400 hurdles. And so, I had a deficit in speed and I wanted to discover how to train to run faster.
That was the beginning. And then very quickly you go to biomechanics and physiology. And so, I started studying that at the university. And I think my first protocol was in 2000. So, that’s almost 20 years of diving into better understanding the mechanics of sprinting and better understanding the methods to develop it.
Jack: Let’s dive into some of those details. Like you mentioned, you focused on improving your speed. So, before going into biomechanics, what type of things did you play around with in your own training to improve your speed back then?
JB: The very funny thing is that I was not very much into gym-based strength & conditioning, and I think that was a major mistake in my development. But I dived into the technical part of sprinting. How do you run and is that connected to how fast to run? And then I later discovered the interest of a specific strength training, while general strength training, and then specific strength training. Because my main limitation, I guess, was the foresight of my profile and my spectrum. Much more than velocity. And so, that was the starts of the thinking.
And people say we can make people faster. We can not make people fast because there’s a huge genetic component in being fast or not at the beginning. But a common training mistake is to think that nobody can improve in terms of speed. Anybody can improve. The only question is how and to what extent.
Jack: It is something that we do hear about in the industry. Don’t bother with sprinting mechanics, don’t bother with trying to get an athlete faster. It’s genetic thing. Spend your time elsewhere. Where do you think that stemmed from? Why do you think it is a, I wouldn’t say it’s a common belief, but it’s certainly a belief?
JB: I don’t know. I think, honestly, what I saw in my experience, much more coaches are okay. Competent, experienced, with classical and gym-based S&C. And very few coaches are experienced and competent with speed training, very specific speed training, because it was historically only the track coaches. And so, I think many, many coaches stated that people can not get faster, just because, in fact, they didn’t really know for themselves how to make people faster. And I think this is changing under the influence of elite track coaches, who are doing some teaching courses and so on.
And my dream or expectation in the industry is that the amount of energy and time, and knowledge that has been spent on developing the strength, the maximum force and gym-based/weightlifting environment is spent on track & field sprinting. Because if you take even research, research on training methods has been very, very, very much into strength direction, which is totally okay and good. And we haven’t been that far in the speed direction, and I think that’s the next steps.
Jack: And you are certainly leading the way, mate. So, it’s exciting to hear that from someone like yourself. And I know, actually, in my own journey in the industry, which is about 11 years now, I would be a testament to that. You definitely spend a lot more time in the gym as a personal trainer, working with your clients. And then you start working with athletes and that’s the area that you’re confident with and competent with. And so, you start to transfer that.
And until I worked in with, like you mentioned, track and field, like I was lucky enough to be mentored by Andrew Russell, who had a track and field background and sprinting background. And that’s where you start to see it. And once you see it, you start to see the benefits that sprinting has and the crossover that it can do. And it is powerful.
JB: And the audience has to be very, very careful in not over-interpreting my words. I don’t say that gym is not necessary or should be avoided. I just say that very likely it shouldn’t be the first button you press. And it’s a button you should press with good reasons.
So, for example,if you give me an athlete and you say, ‘Try to make him faster or try to make her faster,’ my number one button will be: let’s go and run and see what you’ve got. And then, depending on what I see and what we diagnose and so on, we might spend more time at the gym than on the track. But it will totally depend on the athletes.
And so, I guess the industry has been too much over, ‘Okay. You want to run faster? Let’s go and do the gym program.’ I think this is a basic mistake sometimes.
Jack: And it stems from, unless you have a track and field experience, you only know what you know, so you’re confident in the gym. That’s what you understand. And therefore that’s what is happening with athletes.
JB: I think it’s really improving now. But overall S&C coaches, dealing with the sprinting people, I mean, dealing with people sprinting, they have more experience overall with gym-oriented things than track and sprinting-oriented things, just because of their own personal pathway. They have all experienced a degree of gym work. And many of them have not experienced a good amount of sprinting, which makes the difference in my opinion.
Jack: And in your discovery early on,as when you were in the athlete phase of your journey, going back to that period, you mentioned, how you quickly turned to the biomechanics side of things. Take us through your mindset back then. What was the the light bulb moment? Did you see a practitioner that was really good with biomechanics? Were you reading some research? When did you start to notice that biomechanics is where you’re going to spend some time and energy on?
JB: It was partly due to research. Because research pretty quickly showed that it was not like endurance training and matter of physiology. It was really a matter of how the force is produced and how the force is applied. And the questions came. Like, how do you produce more force in that very fast context? What muscles are involved? How do they work? And, in turn, what exercises should you use to specifically develop what you are aiming at developing? That was first and the second was the influence of my university lab. I had people around me analyzing sports with biomechanical lens. So, that’s where I connected the dots.
But again, at the moment I started my thesis, the research on sprinting physiology was into brain oxygenation. So, very, very, very deep into the mechanisms. And the research on sprinting, there was almost no field, direct measurement of force output during a hundred meter run. It was very basic. The amount of knowledge was really imbalanced. So, I saw a gap of knowledge to fill.
Jack: Fantastic. And, obviously, it was something that you were passionate about, which is a good match. And in terms of mentors and influences when you started going from the athlete to a practitioner mode, who was some strong influences?
JB: There were some coaches in France who were video analyzing the athletes. They are not internationally renowned, but they are really, really well-known in France for that frame by frame, very detailed analysis of their running technique.
And on the biomechanics side, I was really influenced by my PhD supervisor, who was a doctor, medical doctor, professor DiPrompero in Italy. Because he was trying to analyze the locomotion and energetic costs or the biomechanics with a very, very big picture, first approach. Like, what does a human body need to produce to run fast? Very rough, basic, Newtonian laws of motion approach, to then dig deeper into what muscles, what training parts and so on.
Because I think that’s from the big picture down to the training exercise is the good way to go. And not the problem from a very, very narrow perspective first, like, muscle fibers or typology and so on. Let’s first look at the movement, the requirements, and then go into a more detailed scale.
Jack: And there’d be a lot of strength & conditioning coaches tuning in that are listening to this and then taking notes, no doubt. What would be some practical tips that you found on improving athlete’s max velocity?
JB: I think max velocity is influenced by two factors. First is the ability to generate that max velocity, to go there. Max velocity is not something that happens alone, it’s acceleration to max velocity. And so, if you are able to accelerate more and your body is able to produce more speed, you will be faster. That’s first. For example, when you pull someone, almost everybody is able to run faster. When you help me produce this extra force in acceleration, eventually I will run faster. So, the idea is to not separate acceleration from top speed because they are really interrelated.
And the second thing is how do you run and how your body is touching the ground and braking or not. Because max velocity is just a matter of reducing the amount of braking forces and impulses. So, in the way you run, how fast your foot is approaching the ground and how strong your force prediction will be, is key. So, you need to be able to attack the ground very powerfully, produce a very high amount of force and do that in a very, very, very small amount of time. This is crazy. When you run at your top speed, you’re in the context where you produce the highest force in the minimum amount of time in any other type of exercise. There is no exercise, biometrics, whatever, that matches these short time/high force context that you have at top speed.
And so, the first way to go to improve top speed, in my opinion, is to teach your body to go there frequently and try to repeat these kinds of stimulus. I see many, many coaches or programs aiming at improving top speed and containing many, many, many type of exercises stuff, situations that are totally not top speed relevant. You see what I mean? So, first things first. When you try to develop maximum strength, it’s a no brainer. You do maximum strength, heavy loads. So, we should have exactly this no-brainer approach for maximum speed.
Jack: And straight away, we start to think, ‘Okay, how do we do that without breaking the athletes?’ So, what would be some ways that you can bring up, almost expose your athletes that maybe they haven’t, like footballers and soccer players, they hit 90%, 95% of max velocity reps regularly. They do a lot of acceleration work, like you said. But the max velocity is something they do regularly.
In the off season and preseason where we’re not playing games and we’ve got time with these athletes, what would be some of the early ways, early methods that you’d use? Is it flying efforts, like a gradual acceleration period and then hitting your velocity and then really winding down? Or is it like a hundred meter sprinter would do it, where you do hold close to high velocities for a long period of time? What do you think is a good way?
JB: That’s a key question, because if you want to expose your body to the high-speed constraints, you have to be really above 90% of your maximum speed. And you have to verify that, because most of the time you think that the athletes reach their maximum speed and that’s okay, and when you check the GPS data, it’s not. I have seen some sprinting sessions where the objective was a high-speed. You see many, many, many accelerations, but you don’t see any meter above 90% of the top speed. So, this is very important.
And the second thing I think is yes, you need to teach the athletes how to go there, close to maximum speed, without hitting the maximum speed button. Because they need to be super fast with a very good control of their movements and awareness about their movements. Otherwise, if you ask for pure maximum performance, like you rank the athletes, you time them, it’s an event, it’s a race. Their objective will change. They will go from mechanical proficiency objective to a pure performance objective. And in that case, they might end up with unsafe running patterns and so on. So, it’s very, very important.
And so, for example, maximum acceleration maybe is not to be recommended if the objective is maximum speed, and vice versa. So, yes, gradual increase in speed until 10–20 meter window with very good technique, that’s the ideal. But you need to be very careful in how you coach and cue the all-out or almost-all-out-but-very-well-controlled button. In my opinion, this is key. This is why sometimes I hear soccer coaches say, ‘Okay, we’ve read the research. We are going to improve the exposures or they are going to sprint more.’ Yes. But if you sprint more in an all-out and rubbish-patterned and uncontrolled way, that might be very counterproductive. So, you have to be very careful with this control of your pattern.
Jack: And like you said, that is an art form, isn’t it? A track and field coach would know how to manage speed exposures, how much recovery is required in between, how well the athlete’s moving, which is incredibly hard because they’re moving so fast, without looking at camera. So, for the coach’s eye there’s probably no more challenging movement than max velocity. But then also how to expose the athletes safely to it as well.
So, to help the athletes that are tuned into this podcast, what you’re saying or what I’m understanding is, if your goal is max velocity, we want to try and build into that max velocity over a longer distance, rather than a really hard acceleration. And then, because acceleration is so important for an athlete, on a different day, or maybe in their warmups, leading up to max velocity, they can do their hard acceleration, is that it?
JB: Yeah. Honestly, I would summarize that by saying that if you want to develop both correctly. Because it’s not like a car with gears, like you have the acceleration gear and then boom, the top speed gear. It’s a spectrum. After two steps, you’re already at 50% of your maximum speed. But if you want to very efficiently focus on each part, I think you have to train them separately. So, to focus on all-out acceleration and correct technique, but not top speed after that, and vice versa.
And of course, if you have team sport athletes, they might benefit more in the game from acceleration development. If you have track athletes, they need both. But in terms of objective and queuing, it has to be separated because the athletes can not focus on two very different things within the same effort and within the same trial. So, you’re going to go all out for the acceleration and then you’re going to go very well technically and with a very good posture on the top speed.
Jack: And from the coach’s point of view, in giving feedback to athletes, do you like to focus on internal cues, external cues? How many cues do you like to give an athlete? I know it’s a very general questions, but when it comes to speed and power training.
JB: You have to be very careful with how the athlete reacts to internal or external cues. I can recommend the works of Nick Winkelman on that. That’s really an amazing book and coaching reference.
And, in my opinion, the idea is to use a high-speed cameras and today’s iPhones and iPads slow motion, because most of the athletes by definition they don’t run, let’s say, correctly, even if that’s a two-day discussion of what is correct. They don’t realize exactly the way they run. For example, if you have an athlete with a very forward inclined trunk, when they run and you ask them, ‘Do you think your trunk is upright or forward or backward-oriented?’ Most of them don’t have the ability to correctly describe what they did.
So, filming them in slow motion is a very, very helpful. It has to be used correctly, because you don’t want them to watch their own videos more than they train, of course. You don’t want to be in there, but sometimes I think it’s more powerful to show the athletes what they did rather than just you with your own words describing their body posture. And now it’s very, very easy to implement these kinds of things. So, I think it’s a powerful feedback.
And then the cues is one at a time. You cannot change everything at the same time. It’s going to be a long process, and you want to change and to fix correctly one thing at a time, Because very often, for example, if you say, ‘Fix that trunk position,’ there’s going to be another thing that will be compensated that you didn’t want. So, it’s very, very step-by-step.
Jack: I couldn’t agree more. Nick Winkelman, I was lucky enough to be at his ASCA conference a couple of years ago. And for strength & conditioning coaches that are tuned in, definitely write down his name and look at his research and the power of external cues for when athletes are moving fast. He puts it in really nicely and makes it really easy to understand, as well as giving plenty of practical ones to use.
You mentioned the technical aspect and what is correct for an athlete. And, obviously, there’s a lot of variants and Usain Bolt comes to mind on this topic about what is optimal and performance as well. And, obviously, there’s a lot of individual variances. When you’re working with an athlete and maybe they’re a developing athlete, how much do you try and change when it comes to like the lower limb, the trunk, head position, use of arms? What are things that are really, really important, like your key pillars, I can’t let that go, they’re too critical? And what are some things that you’ve seen other coaches do, or maybe you’ve done years ago, where you feel like the effort that goes into changing that is too great and it’s hard to change that in an individual?
JB: First, I guess, the idea is that every athlete will have a different dashboard and a different puzzle to solve. I don’t want some general rules, like every athlete should have that kind of position and so on, but I want to analyze each athlete’s profile to say, ‘Okay, where is the limiting factor?’ I think the very important thing is where is the limiting factor and where is something to be fixed?
Typically, if the athlete has, I don’t know, a head posture that doesn’t seem classical, that’s not a good reason for trying to change it, because again, changing something might result in other things changing. So, if this head posture is an issue, like you see that the head is rotating too much during sprinting, and this is associated with the rotation of the trunk, then this might be associated with more tension in some muscles. You have some good reasons to fix it.
So, first, how is my athlete running? What is the big rocks of his running style that needs to be fixed and how can we fix it? And so, again, that’s more difficult. It’s a very difficult way to coach when you have this individualized approach. But you never see two guys on the team running exactly the same. So, that’s very important. You can take many other examples.
I think there are some common features: trunk position, pelvic control position, and try to avoid a drop in the pelvis during the strike cycle, foot position at touchdown. Foot and limb position at touchdown is a very important one, because it’s related to the orientation of the ground force vector. So, it means here it’s not a matter of style and preference. It’s not a static, it’s mechanical.
If your foot touches the ground this far in front of your center of mass, by definition the force orientation of the ground force will be backwards. So, there’s going to be a negative impulse to handle. And so, this is not a matter of choice or coach’s eyes, it’s a matter of mechanics. If you reduce that distance, you will very likely reduce the negative impulse. And this is where biomechanical analysis is coming.
Jack: If someone is overstriding and you want to try and improve their rhythm with their sprinting and their cadence, is it doing walking first and then jogging? And are you giving them video feedback after a set? Is it after a rep or is it after the end of the session? Like how much feedback do you give an athlete? And what’s that like?
JB: The funny way to handle that is to say to the athlete, ‘Try to overstride less.’ You see what I mean? It’s like when you play the darts and you hit too much on the right and your friend says, ‘Okay, you try to hit more on the left next time.’ ‘Okay. I know that.’ If I knew how to do that, I would have hit the target. So, the idea is to try to have some training drills and situations where the factor that you want to correct would be corrected by the exercise itself. For example, I think that running with a very, very small wickets can be a good way.
And the other thing is trying to coach and cue some more active backward movement of the swing leg. And there you need some very intense backward movements that begins at the hip. The problem of overstriding is that the foot position is that it’s just the finer result of the entire process that starts at the hip. And so if you will send that, and this has been wonderfully shown by Ken Clark in a paper name ‘Whip from the hip’. If you understand that foot position at touchdown is not the real issue, it’s the consequence of the real issue, you understand that the issue is at the, we call that the leg switch or the hip switch movement, that is not powerful enough, that is not fast enough.
So, you need to find some drills, you need to find some exercises, where the hip extension will be a bit faster on one side and the hip flection will be a bit faster on the other side. You want the athlete to have a hip switch that’s much more powerful. This will maybe not be achieved by just saying, ‘Hit the ground with your foot closer to your center of mass projection.’ This is a wrong cue in my opinion. This would be the result of the process.
Jack: Okay. So, in terms of drills to help strengthen that hip extension, you’ve got like your hay marches and A skips and like maybe figure four switches on the wall. Are they some helpful things to do to practice that?
JB: Yeah. Knee dribbling, very, very intense knee dribbling, extended limbs skips and so on. But again, you can take the very same drill and depending on the instructions have a totally different stimulus.
Take the A skip. It’s the A skip because it’s one of the most common. You can have an A skip drill that is done with a very powerful hip flection, but a hip extension that is loose or you can have exactly the opposite. The rhythm is totally opposite. You can have a very loose hip flection and then a super powerful hip extension. That’s the exact same drill, but that’s two opposite instructions you give.
So, I think it’s not a matter of drill selection. Well, it is, of course. But within the hip extension drills, it’s also a matter of where is the intention, when should I hit the power button. And this is very important, and this is why you can not coach by email saying, ‘Okay, do 10 times A skip.’ Because they might be done totally inefficiently.
Jack: Yeah. And like an external cue, if we put our cap on from Nick Winkelman, could you have a hammer lift? Like if you’re trying to get a nail and you’re trying to get that nail straight into the wood with one go, you’re going to have a high handle lift, and that’s for the knee, instead of doing lots of little drills.
JB: Yeah, that analogy makes sense to me. But it’s only partial, because if you have that nail analogy, how do you hit a nail with a hammer? The intense movement is at the beginning, and then when you hit the nail, everything stops by definition. So, it’s also typically when you hit the nail, you need to push it down. And so, this is why the hammer is a good cue, but it’s only partial.
I will use a cue in which step number one is taking your foot to the ground, and step number two is taking your body out of the ground forward or upwards. So, the hammer is a good analogy, but everything that is important is what the foot does when it’s onto the ground. Not only just before, but it’s a good way.
Jack: I like that. It’s a good visual. Thank you for clarifying that drill. And then, the use of video analysis as well, that’s so important. So, you’re doing your drills, you’re then applying it to the actual task itself, like sprinting. And in terms of getting for some that might be tuning in, how much are you focusing on lengthening some body parts and things like that?
Like how much is the issue of not being able to hit those shapes and those joint angles? Or in your experience working with athletes, is it more the understanding of what that motion should feel like and changing that pattern? Is it more neurology or do you feel like there is some tissue stuff to work on to be able to get those angles?
JB: Yeah, sometimes the limiting factor is range of motion. Sometimes the limiting factor is ankle range of motion. Sometimes it’s pelvis and thigh range of motion.
So again, I give you a very simple example. You have an athlete that is very limited in his range of motion at the thighs and the hip joint. You can test that with a very simple standing leg raise or a lying leg raise test and so on. And if you see that the stride length is limited and you think that’s the issue, maybe you will coach some longer stride length in an athlete who has a limited range of motion at the pelvis and at the thighs.
And so, maybe you will have issues of injuries with this athlete, because he will try to give you what you asked. He will try to have longer strides, where, in fact, structurally his body cannot. And to come up to your expectation as a coach, he will end up being injured because of putting too much constraint on his system. But if you realize that the short strides are related to this lack of range of motion, you will work with the physiotherapists on the range of motion and hope he will have longer strides.
So again, it’s always where is the limiting factor for this objective? And sometimes it’s range of motion. I have worked with basketball young people. Believe me they were not able to flex their knee 90 degrees without raising the heel. It means they had a crazy stiff ankle system. And so, they had a very short range of motion at the ankle. And if you say, ‘You will jump higher by improving your strength,’ and you go to the gym and you strengthen the guys, you will not unlock the limiting factor.
It’s like you have one foot on the brake and you keep on accelerating. This is one solution. This is one solution that will basically ruin your motor. But the other solution is to lift the foot on the brake. This is exactly the way to see things. Try and see the limiting factors. It’s always capacity versus constraints. You can work on improving your capacity a lot. You can also focus on reducing the constraints on your system. And I think most of the time S&C is more on pushing the capacity, not enough on reducing the constraint. That’s the idea.
Jack: I love that. And both from injury prevention, but also performance too, to get those benefits, to be able to access those angles, you’re going to be able to jump higher and run faster and intentionally prevent overload.
JB: And to complete the anecdote, this young guy at the end of the first session he was the only guy in the team for which I said, ‘You won’t go to do the gym program with the other. You will go first to work with the therapist on knocking that ankle.’ And he was like, ‘Yes, but why?’ And I said, ‘Look, believe me, let’s see us back in four weeks.’ He was jumping higher because he didn’t go to the gym, but he was able to run up better and to move better into his jump because of this better range of motion. So, that’s the idea. And I think maybe if he had done the gym program, maybe he would have jumped higher, but that wouldn’t have solved the ankle issue.
Jack: That’s great. Absolutely love hearing that. And it takes courage to be able to make those bold decisions in that environment. But that’s great to hear that you did that and the athlete bought into it, and it always helps when you get a good result as well. Were there some other athletes that you’ve worked with in the past that don’t buy in, and how do you go about trying to work with that situation?
JB: I don’t coach anymore because of my academic work, but when I was doing physical prep in basketball, the funny thing is that I was doing some foot and ankle strengthening exercises, routines. Some players didn’t buy that. They were like, ‘Come on. We need to jump. We need to skip and so on.’ And I said, ‘Yes, but we are working on strengthening the point of force transfer and blah, blah, blah.’
And one day one of the guys had a major ankle sprain, so he went to the physiotherapist. Very good physio working with his hands and so on. And when he came back, he said, ‘Oh, you know what? We did some of the exercises you were suggesting at the beginning of the season and blah, blah, blah, for my rehab.’ And I said, ‘Look. What do you think? It was useful for the rehab. It’s exactly the same philosophy. There is no rehab or physical prep, there is strengthening your foot and ankle.’
And then at that moment he was like, ‘Okay.’ But it took him an ankle sprain to come back to something that made sense right from the beginning. I would say that it’s the costly way to buy in and to realize things, is when you have issues.
Jack: Yeah, absolutely. And what about for your own knowledge and craft? You mentioned you’re into, obviously, the academic side, all the research that you’ve done. How do you keep yourself at the top of your game? What are some of your favorite ways to upskill your knowledge?
JB: Well, I think social media, well use of social media is really interesting. When you mix Twitter and Instagram to see who is doing what and following good coaches and good professionals, I think it’s a good way. But definitely the other way is to read.
You have to read papers and you have to be aware. If you hit the keywords ‘sprint’, ‘soccer’, ‘rugby’, ‘hamstring’ on PubMed, and you receive the alerts on that, you get something like a hundred papers a week. So, of course, not all of them are interesting, but at least every week there’s one or two papers out that you need to see and read to update knowledge.
And the second thing is that I try to keep my hands on the motor. So, practicing myself. New exercises, new ideas. I’m very often at the gym trying some stuff and conecting with athletes very often. This is very important. For example, when I do a workshop or when I teach now, I refuse to do a teaching session if there is no practice. I need people to move and see them and discuss and interact around how people move. This is very important.
Jack: And what about, JB, when you’re interested in a topic and you’ve discovered something that you’re passionate about, how do you come about finding those things? Is it because in the practical sense, when you work with athletes, you feel like, ‘Oh, that’s an area that I’m lagging in and I want to work on’? Or is it more just as you’re going about your research and the routines that you’re doing, that starts to just come naturally out of just interest in your research?
JB: Honestly, I think that 80% of the major novel ideas that we have tested in the past came from our own practice or our own interactions with coaches. Not from the conclusion of a previous study that says, ‘It would be interesting to test that.’ I don’t say that it’s not the case, but I would say that 20% of our research ideas come actually from previous research, but the vast majority comes from interacting with people. And this is why having Jordan Mandy Gucco as a collaborator and friend is key. Because every week he comes up with a new player that he has treated and that came with a new idea. And then we want to test this new idea. That’s the common point.
Jack: Yeah. Solving problems for us. That’s great.
JB: Yes. That’s also a good way to track and research some things that make sense. I don’t say that everything that coaches do make sense and research does not, but I say sometimes hypothesis come for a reason. It’s because they come from repeated observations. And I always say that the experience and the view on the topic of a coach that has 40 years of experience to my eyes is as important as the conclusion of an academics who has never really done what he’s talking about. Honestly, it’s very important. I don’t say the field is right and academics are wrong. I say sometimes we need to start from the field questions because they really make sense. We call that practice-based evidence. But I think it’s important.
Jack: Yeah, that integration. Is that something that in your career you’ve seen those collaborations starting to come more and more in research, where people are looking to learn from those practicing in the field, and vice versa, those practicing in the field are starting to lean on more people in research?
JB: I definitely think that the field is more and more research-friendly and research-aware and open. This is clear. I am not really convinced over the past 20 years that academia and research has opened up to field possibilities and field ideas. I very often see academics very, very narrow-minded against ideas that come from the field. Like, ‘There is no research evidence on that. So, this is not a possibility.’ This is something that really needs to be improved.
Jack: And why do you think that is the case?
JB: That might be also the case because some people go through the academic career with they start in the Master’s, then they do a PhD, then they become professors and researchers. And sometimes they don’t have enough connections with the field itself from the beginning. And the academic world, it’s a frenzy, it’s crazy and so on. So, if you don’t have that connection, if you don’t work on it, then you have a risk of revolving around the orbit of academic world and never touching the ground. I think this is one explanation.
Jack: That makes sense. You can easily get stuck in your own world, can’t you? And if you don’t understand something, then not that it would be a threat, but there might just be something that you are so busy in your own work, that it’s not relevant to what you’re doing. What about your own personal challenges? What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had over the last 20 years? And what did you grow and learn from it?
JB: One of the challenges is exactly what we’ve just discussed. Trying to make my colleagues, my students understand the fact that sometimes very interesting ideas actually come from outside of academia. This is important. And vice versa, trying to make coaches understand that sometimes good ideas come from research in academia. I try to have both people understand each other’s positions.
The only limitation is that research is assessed by academia and by academia only. And so, sometimes it’s a bit difficult to put some works that are trying to open some hypothesis, because academia sometimes is a very conservative world. Well, high level sports as well. So, if you want to open up to new ideas and possibilities, then you’re going to have to fight conservatism and inertia.
Jack: And we’ll move to more personal side, the get-to-know-you segment of the podcast, JB. So, this is the easier questions, I guess, a bit of a lighter touch. The first one is what movie or TV series, or book has impacted you the most and why?
JB: Well, I’m not a very, very intense series watcher. I watch some, but I would say they come and go. I was very, very passionate with two movies when I was younger. One was ‘Back to the Future’. And I think that’s a classic in my generation. But it’s exactly this: testing crazy things outside and doing some sci-fi stuff. The other one was ‘Once Upon a Time in America’. I was really marked by this movie. It was very intense. Young people develop and go through their own path in America. So, that was my two major influences.
And in terms of reading, I’m really passionate about history of science books. Most of them are in French, but when you read the life of Galileo or the life of very big names in science, da Vinci and so on, that’s really interesting how they connected. Because they did some ground-breaking scientific works in the era of we have no device, we have no technology. I don’t say that models is rubbish, but at the time they had just wood sticks and paper. They computed things and they did some crazy stuff. And so, that’s in the historical books.
Jack: Yeah, geniuses. And on that note of inspiration, what is your favorite inspirational quote or life motto?
JB: I don’t know. I love the idea of ‘if it’s not sure, at least it’s a maybe.’ I love that because it means I don’t know. And the second thing is ‘at worst, it doesn’t work.’ I love that because you will try some stuff and sometimes it will not work and sometimes it will. And so, if you start with this thing in mind, I think you have a very positive journey.
Jack: Giving things a shot.
JB: I think it’s very simple to say that, but sometimes people tend to forget that. Why not? And before we say it’s a yes or it’s a no, let’s go with it’s a maybe. That’s a positive way.
Jack: Yeah. It’s a great outlook. There’s a lot of gray, isn’t there?
JB: And then sometime it’s some things that make sense a few years after don’t, but at least we’ve tried, we’ve tested.
Jack: And what about in your work life, what are your pet peeves? What makes you angry?
JB: I think the most exciting part of my work is the field testing. What information can we collect accurately without being at the lab? This is interesting. I do some lab research and I supervise some lab research clearly, but it’s really interesting to see how can we use classical information to get some new type of information. That’s really interesting.
Jack: Yeah. Sorry, I might’ve not explained the question well enough. So, what are your pet peeves? What makes you angry? So, when you’re in your work life, when you’re running some research or you’re working in the field and it might be an athlete that does something, like they might rock up late to training.
JB: Oh, what makes me angry? Okay. Honestly, less and less things make me really mad, because I’m a live-and-let-die type of guy now. The only thing that really makes me crazy is unfairness. Unfairness of arguments, unfairness of comments, and unfairness of assessment. Yes, personal bias that leads to unfairness. If some comments are fair and sound, I totally accept and agree. Sometimes unfair decisions, it’s the last thing I cannot let go.
As for the athlete, if an athlete doesn’t do or doesn’t respect an instruction or whatever, honestly, I have a comment. Like if a student is using his phone during my class, I would have a comment and just kick him out of the room, but that doesn’t make me, my heart rate doesn’t move. I don’t care. But unfairness is something I can’t stand.
Jack: That makes a lot of sense. That’s something that I definitely agree with and I think, no doubt, everyone would resonate with that. If you’re putting energy and time into something and you care about something, you want that to be mutual.
JB: Absolutely. An example is when you put energy and time in developing 20 years of research on something and someone comes without experience and with unfair or wrong arguments and influences that your paper is rejected or, you see what I mean? So, this is tough, but it’s the game.
Jack: Yeah, unfortunately. And what about what’s your favorite way to spend your day off? You sound like you’re a busy guy. You may not have a lot of days off, but what would be your favorite thing when you do?
JB: If my wife doesn’t listen to the podcast, I would say cycling. Days off are really around moving around, hiking and doing sports. The good thing with kids growing up is that they come really good sports partners. So, playing sports with kids is good. And going around in the outdoors. I’m a country guy. I’m not a very urban guy. Day off means what’s the weather like, and let’s do something.
Jack: And what about your favorite holiday destination in a COVID-free world? Where would you love to be?
JB: I would love to be in places that are not too crowded. I really like Italy. So, a coast somewhere on the Italy coast parts is really cool. I love that country. That’s really calm and very, very relaxing. So, that would be the destination.
Jack: Very good. It’s definitely on my list. I’ve heard very good things about it and it’s probably been a popular country, I think, in all the guests that I’ve had.
JB: It’s got to be longer trip for you than for me.
Jack: Absolutely. We’ve talked a lot about early on in your career and the research and the work that you’ve done on the field, what are some of the things you’re excited about at the moment? What are some passion projects that you’re working on? And take us through some things that you’re working on for the rest of the year.
JB: The two things that are really interesting for me right now i, the one thing is on the hamstring injury side with a very multifactorial prevention process that we’ve started a couple of years ago and see if it helps better preventing injuries. That’s for one.
And the second one is the use of GPS data to analyze what we call the institute profile of the players. It’s a new way to analyze the GPS speed and acceleration data. And we want to see how it relates to classical single sprint profiles, and how it relates to anything: fatigue, performance, injuries, and everything that can be done. So, we’ve just published a proof of concept paper. And so, by definition, if the proof of concept paper has been published, it’s a let’s go and investigate.
Jack: That sounds really interesting. What exactly are you looking at with the GPS when it comes to acceleration and velocity?
JB: We accumulate some GPS data over sessions or sessions plus games, or even weeks of data. If the GPS data is accurate enough, we have a cloud of data that’s as a kind of a triangle relationship between acceleration and speed. As you know, when you run faster, you’re able to accelerate and vice versa. And the top end of this triangle gives us a kind of a profile, and that’s going to be the speed acceleration profile of the player. So, that was just the new way to analyze this data. And then we can see if it changes depending on the position, depending on ongoing injuries, depending on the tactical instruction of the coaches and so on.
Jack: And how to prepare them for the way they play.
JB: Yeah. Then the most exciting part of this concept is that you collect the data and for the players it’s a totally passive way of being tested. Because you don’t test, they generate the data anyway, it’s just a matter of reanalyzing the data that’s been collected.
Jack: That’s great. And so, to get a better understanding of that triangle relationship, are you looking an athlete’s profile? Are they someone that does sprint a lot, then do a lot of high velocity work, and then another athlete that doesn’t actually get exposed to max velocity, but they do a lot of acceleration? What about density? Is that something that you look into as well at work, right?
JB: Yeah. That’s one of the questions we have. We need enough type of exercises all around the spectrum to get the sound cloud of data. Sometimes we have some data clouds that have not enough data on the maximum velocity side and some not enough data on the maximum acceleration side. I would say we need to be sure that the player has given maximum efforts in all the speed zones. And so, that can take 30 minutes. I can do a 30 minute efforts in playing football and filling all the zones of my cloud that can take two weeks of data. So, that’s part of the research that we are now performing.
Jack: It sounds really interesting. I’ll watch this space. And it’s about to be published?
JB: Yeah. I hope that’s going to be the next year’s papers, by my team, but also by other teams. And we are collaborating already with people trying to implement that approach.
Jack: And on the sports science GPS, what do you think is coming in that space? What are some objective measures? Obviously, GPS has been around for some time and they’re getting more reliable. But is there something new in the works that you think will start to be in elite sport?
JB: I think the next steps would be an improvement in the accuracy of the systems, because not all systems are accurate enough today to correctly assess maximum acceleration movements. When the speed is stable and you have maximum speed, but the change in speed is very, very small, most systems are accurate enough. But when the speed is changing very fast and with a very high magnitude of change, some systems are still not able to track that correctly. And to track that correctly when the weather is not correct, when the quality of the signal is not correct. So, I think maybe the next frontier is to get really accurate data in more conditions.
Jack: That makes sense. And that’s something that you think will be in action in the next 5 years, 10 years? How long do you think that type of work takes?
JB: I don’t know. I don’t know, really. I’m not into the hardcore technology side of things, so I really don’t know. I hope it will be in a few years, but…
Jack: Well, thank you so much for your time today in France and tonight here in Australia. I really appreciate it, JB. It’s been amazing to have you on and share your expertise and your knowledge, both in the practical field and how you apply your research and the work that you’ve done over the last 20 years. Thank you so much for your time and sharing, and being so open and honest with us tonight.
JB: Thank you. Thank you, Jack. And I hope people will like it.
Jack: They absolutely will. Thank you, JB. Thanks for everyone that’s tuned in and I’ll make sure that I’ll update our next live chat very shortly. Cheers, guys.
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