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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Interview with Alwyn Cosgrove

The following is an interview I did with performance coach and gym owner Alwyn Cosgrove last year. As many of you know, AC is not just a friend but a mentor to a me, so it's with great pleasure that I'm reproducing this interview.

Stay strong

MR: Alwyn, let's cut to the chase. You've studied under what many would consider the top "Gurus" in our field. What have you learned from them, and what do you wish you could forget?

AC: This is what I was talking about in my second-to-last point in my T-nation article this week (with editing, it came out a little different). I wasn't talking to the reader, I was really talking about these guys.

The fact is, when you get right down to it, all a coach can do is write a program to get results. The program is nothing more than the "delivery system" of all your training knowledge. Despite being practically brainwashed by these guys, I slowly came to realize, that regardless of who they were or what they knew, head-to-head, program-to-program they really weren't all that. Now don't get me wrong - these are smart guys, geniuses in their areas. But when you get past the Yoda-worship, and start to have to get results -well it was like pulling back the Wizard of Oz curtain.

These guys all refuse to really acknowledge each other. I studied them all. And none of them studied me :) I know where their strengths are and where their weaknesses lie. So after a while, when you get right down to it and have to take a client from point A to point B - I'm comfortable that I could "hang" with any of these guys.

MR: Now, having lost 3 grandparents to cancer myself, I'm always interested in a "survivors perspective" on the topic. We always here about people like Lance Armstrong, but how has cancer changed Alwyn Cosgrove?

AC: Mike, it changes everything. You cannot even comprehend what it means to hear "you have cancer". Lance Armstrong once said that after cancer "there are only good days and great days". I completely understand that.

My one year anniversary of being in remission is this week. It's weird - you don't feel like celebrating - you're still kind of "holding your breath" about everything. I have to do a PET/CT scan this week (just as a check up). Even though I feel ok, all the old emotions and fears resurface. It's almost like you'd rather not know.

My goals as an athlete were just all about strength, speed , getting lean, getting big etc. Then I had cancer and lost all of that. Coming back has been a real struggle. Slow. Painful actually. And depressing. I still can't really complete a full workout. On Dave Tate's "scale of strength" maybe I'll never get out of the "shit" or "suck" category. But I can tell you, there are a whole bunch of people undergoing chemotherapy right now who are stronger than ANY powerlifter if you know what I mean.

But you know what? None of that matters. I honestly don't care enough anymore. I got a second shot at life. I was in Stage IV. Now I'm in remission. After being faced with cancer - trivial things are just of no interest to me. I'm too busy living. Taking a walk in the sun has a whole new meaning now.

Cancer is the scariest, toughest opponent anyone could ever face. I would fight Mike Tyson, the entire UFC and a pack of rabid pit bull dogs with my hands tied behind my back rather than face cancer and chemotherapy again. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

MR: When you talk about stuff like that, I think it gives the rest of us a lot more perspective on our own lives as well. Being late to work, missing a deadline, or having a bad workout really aren't that bad in the grand scheme of things.

Now, let's switch topics a little bit to something that's near and dear to your heart: The Internet Troll. Your thoughts?

AC: See above. People like that are just insignificant to me. They take time out of their lives to "talk shit" to people while they hide behind anonymity on an internet forum. I'm just glad I'm that important to them that they feel the need to take the time to let their feelings known. Unfortunately they aren't that important to me! I get paid to write articles for magazines. If you read them - great. Whether you like them or hate them - the fact that you read them and even know who I am means I earned my paycheck. Because I don't read your replies. And I don't know who you are - sorry!

I read a "time management" book a while ago and it said to exchange the word "life" for "time". That really helps. Then you realize you don't have the "life" to waste concerning yourself with this type of stuff.

MR: I'm in total agreement, and I know how frustrating it can be to put a ton of time and effort into an article, only to have it bashed by the self-proclaimed "expert" sitting behind a computer screen.

So let's get off the internet thing and get to some real-world training applications. What kind of things are you experimenting with now? Anything new or exciting?

AC: I could see myself eliminating back squats with a lot of my clients. I've been playing with taking them out of programs for about a year now (from conversations with Mike Boyle). At a certain point I think the risks of back squats for a non-powerlifter start to outweigh the benefits. I don't see that with front squats/lunges etc. I can also see me drastically reducing all upper body barbell work with my athletes. As well, I think bodyweight-only training is still a largely untapped area.

Have you seen this: http://www.thehappybody.com/Video/PostureTest.wmv? If your joints don't have that type of mobility and stability - then why are we loading the joints?

No one is integrating mobility, stability, strength, power and endurance work real well yet. I have some thoughts on how to do that.

I've been experimenting with different fat loss protocols for the last two years. I've almost dialed it in I think. My mum died of a heart attack largely due to obesity when I was in college. With all my
supposed knowledge about cardiac health/fat loss etc (I was studying in college and competing in TKD at international level) and was still unable to help her with anything effective. What was "supposed" to work - just does not work in the real world.

So I've been playing with and researching how to get fat off people since then. The fitness industry has flat out got it wrong most of the time. We've modeled endurance athletes and tried to pass that down to the general public even though fat loss was never the goal of endurance athletes. We then modeled bodybuilders - and failed again. We can't consider bodybuilding without considering the influence of steroids. Once the steroids are out of the picture, bodybuilding methods for fat loss are less effective. The typical bodybuilder who has been training heavy, suddenly cuts his calories drastically, increases his cardio work by a huge amount and starts doing high rep supersets. The result? Losing muscle rapidly if you're not on some kind of drugs.

This has lead to every trainer out there recommending low rep, heavy weights for fat loss. I've seen the exact same sets and reps recommended for hypertrophy, relative strength and for fat loss. This isn't by any stretch of the imagination going to be the most effective method. The same program no matter what? No way.

The loss of muscle has confused people. It's not really an issue if you aren't following a completely retarded diet and training program. We're looking at a flawed model and trying to "upgrade" it. We need to start with a different model in the first place.

MR: I, for one, can't wait to hear what you've come up with. Finally, you've done a lot of talk about the "pendulum" of training, and how people are quick to over-react in the short-term and then tend to under-react in the long-term. What are your thoughts on all the different "mediums" that are currently being proposed?

AC: Bruce Lee was really the first martial artist to promote cross-training in different systems. It took nearly 25 years for the martial arts world to catch up - and now everyone knows what MMA means. The fitness world is still in the dark ages by comparison.

I've listened to Paul Chek, Ellington Darden, Pavel Tsatsouline and Dave Tate. Most people see these guys as completely incompatible. I just see everything they offer as tools in a trainers arsenal. I use swiss balls. I use kettlebells. I use low volume training. I use the Westside Barbell methodology. I can see the strengths and weaknesses of each system. Maximize the strengths and cover the weaknesses with strengths from another system.

The fitness industry is still arguing as to what "Style" is the best. Once we figure it out and start to develop a unified training system - maybe we'll get taken seriously as professionals.

MR: Alwyn, thanks a lot for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions. If you'd like to find out more about Alwyn, check him out at his website at www.alwyncosgrove.com.

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