The Best Sports Performance Training Guide

sean casey strength training

Table of Contents

Today, I had the honor of interviewing a very well-respected figure in the fitness industry. In fact, I first stumbled upon his brilliant articles when I had just started my “weightlifting career”. So, for me to interview him today is a tremendous pleasure -dreams do come true ha!. Our guest today is Sean Casey. Along with being a registered dietitian and certified sports nutritionist, Sean is a physical preparation coach who specializes in the implementation of strength training into sports. His rationale is that weightlifting is not only great for overall health and body composition, but it’s also great for boosting athletic performance. This is what he had to say about the subject.

NOTE: Even though Sean hasn’t been able to update his blog in a while, it still has a tremendous amount of valuable information. I highly suggest you visit CasePerformance and to look at the articles there.

First off, I’d like to thank you for taking the time out of your extremely busy schedule to allow me to interview you. I truly appreciate it!

Sean: No problem at all! It’s my pleasure as well.

Thank you! Well, I wanted to pick your brain specifically on your rationale and methodology of implementing strength training into sports performance. However, if you would honor us with a brief introduction about yourself that would be fantastic.

Sean: Of course. Well, I was fortunate enough to grow up around sports. I have had success on a small scale and proceeded to squeeze every bit out of my body by eating right, what I thought was ‘training properly’…etc. But, looking back, I was FAR from training properly. I followed the same training programs laid out in bodybuilding magazines and did what the pros were doing, which didn’t work out quite well. I went to University of Wisconsin–Madison and studied exercise physiology, kinesiology, and nutritional science. I am also a registered dietician. The main reason I pursued education in these fields was because of my passion to help athletes on multiple levels (i.e. physical training and nutrition). I also had the privilege of working with the physical preparation department (aka strength and conditioning) at the University of Wisconsin. My training philosophy has been influenced by the works of Ian King and the opportunity to coach with Luke Richesson & Dave Knight.

Excellent! Admittedly, I have been following your online contributions and I used to be an avid reader of your blog, CasePerformance, but it hasn’t been updated in a while. So, what have you been up to?

Sean: Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do much updates on CasePerformance due to being occupied most of the time. Lately, I’ve been tied up with training/nutrition work with different athletes and side projects. As much as I loved writing articles on CasePerformance and learning from the people I had the privilege to interview, finding the time to squeeze everything into 24 hours has been quite difficult. For instance, I was reading some of your articles on Fit Notice; what many people don’t realize is the amount of time and effort it takes to look at research and interpret that into neat articles. So, I definitely appreciate what you’re doing.

Thank you for the nice words, I appreciate it! You were one of my main inspirations to start this project. Disregarding the stigmas many people associate with weightlifting; how can strength training enhance athletic performance?

Sean: The most important thing to consider is how strength training benefits will carry over to athletic performance. The approach will be slightly different depending on the athlete’s sport and for that matter, position within a sport. For example, an NFL offensive lineman’s demands will be significantly different than those of a wide receiver; both of which vary from that of a triathlon competitor. Once an individual’s needs are addressed from a physical health/flexibility/posture standpoint, I look at demands of the sport played by the athletes. Things I consider on this latter end include amount of resistance, speed of movement, plane of movement and body orientation when going through that plane of movement. Expanding on these things a bit more…
As it relates to speed of movement – In bodybuilding, long TUT (time under tension) and slow tempos are often used, but a slow tempo is rarely used in any sport (Note – I like Ian King’s tempo numbering system as it relates to this stuff).
As it relates to planes of movements – think of a baseball player, who is consistently swinging the bat in a relatively transverse plane; not only is he building up a pretty big strength imbalance from constantly swinging from one direction only, but if he follows a traditional bodybuilding program which generally consists of mostly sagittal/linear movements he’s creating further imbalances.
As it relates to body orientation within a given plane of movement – When a runner, let’s say a 400 meter dash competitor, is running he/she will always be a in vertical position in the sagittal plane (minus the start from the blocks). On the other, a swimmer, who is also moving in the sagittal plane, will predominantly be moving through the sagittal plane in a horizontal position (i.e. – prone or supine). Thus, spending a lot of time training this 400 meter dash competitor in a prone/supine is not something I’d do; rather the focus will be on improving his performance in the position his sport demands – a vertical position. On the other hand, I spend more time training swimmers in prone/supine positions.
As it relates to resistance – Different amounts of raw strength are needed based off the sport one plays. As an example, one of my main athletes currently is a badminton player. If he happens to squat 500 pounds, cool. But, will squatting 500 pounds significantly benefit his athletic performance? Not really. I also like to address any imbalances the athlete may have from simply playing the sport (as in the baseball player example I mentioned earlier). So, correcting any imbalances is also crucial for overall development and enhanced performance in my opinion.

Great explanation! I agree with you. I concluded something from your detailed explanation: so, does fiber type composition play a role when you’re designing a program? For example, a sprinter who predominantly uses his fast-twitch fibers will follow a training approach that emphasizes those fibers as opposed to a distance runner who mainly recruits his slow-twitch fibers.

Sean: That’s a very interesting question. Earlier in my career, I would focus on improving muscular endurance via higher rep sets in distance runners. And although this approach worked, it didn’t produce as much results as I would’ve liked. I then started implementing more strength & power-based rep ranges into their programs and their times improved significantly. Think about it – most hardcore distance runners are doing 50-100 miles/week. They’re getting enough ‘muscle endurance work in’ from their sport itself; they don’t need anymore from me! The only time I’m doing more ‘longer’ time under tension type stuff with an endurance runner is if I’m doing some sort of stability based exercise.
Also, implementing power movements and rep ranges into a distance runner’s program will significantly improve his strength levels through improved neuromuscular recruitment of muscle fibers without gaining much muscle/weight which could negatively impact their performance. In this case, every pound makes a difference.

So, a detailed approach should be followed in the case of athletes. Well, what about the average trainee who just wants to get stronger and look good? Should he structure his program around his muscle fiber composition? Or, a well-structured program should automatically take care of that?

Sean: Absolutely. The average trainee should keep it simple and follow a well-balanced program that will allow him to keep progressing. Implementing different rep ranges and tempos should automatically tap into different types of muscle fibers. Additionally, there is plenty of research showing that muscle fibers could change from one subtype to another. So, focusing on dominant muscle fibers in an individual doesn’t matter much since there is a high chance their muscle fiber composition will change based on the imposed stimulus. The human body is very adaptive and muscle fibers are no exception. Who knows, maybe having someone complete a set with 6-7 reps vs. 8 reps may be more ‘ideal’ based off fiber type, but I am sure being 1-2 rep off their ideal rep range won’t cause any substantial differences in the long run as it relates to muscle hypertrophy.

Based on that, why do fitness figures often recommend executing exercises with an explosive movement?

Sean: Although working with slower tempos has its role, explosiveness is more efficient. Executing an exercise with an explosive movement is better at teaching your nervous system how to recruit more muscle fibers at a given time; each.

I know one of your main clients is the amazing badminton player – Viktor Axelsen. Though unheard of, why did you choose to implement strength training into his program and how did you do so?

Sean: With Viktor, my focus was on how to bring up his weaknesses and smooth out any imbalances he may have had. As a badminton player who is right handed, Viktor repeats the same movement patterns very frequently on only one side of his body. This, unintentionally, creates muscle imbalances, therefore, implementation of flexibility techniques and unilateral exercises was mandatory to reduce injuries and enhance athletic performance. Exercise selection is key. For instance, although everyone thinks of the ‘bench’ when comes to lifting, for an athlete like Viktor, spending a lot of time bringing up his bench press won’t necessarily translate to better badminton performance. In contrast, doing unilateral pulling/pushing/chop type motions has seemed to translate well for him.
I should make mention, it’s important to realize that Viktor is a great athlete through all HIS hard work (I can’t take credit for it); he was a great athlete before I ever worked with him and would be a great athlete today even if I hadn’t started to work with him; Viktor has a great coaching & support team around him; I’m just a small cog. With this being said, my goal with any individual I work with (be it from a training/nutrition perspective) is to have them at a level of health/physical fitness that allows him/her to play at a highly competitively level for as long as they’re still passionate about their sport of choice.

Concerning injuries, top-level athletes already train extremely hard and often perform multiple sessions per day. This could potentially cause injuries. How do you go about implementing strength training into their lifestyles without decreasing performance at their sport-specific training sessions? And how do you avoid injuries given this amount of exercise?

Sean: In this case, individualized training can’t be a set-in stone program written months in advance; it must be malleable such that it takes into account all the other physical/emotional stressors that an athlete is facing on a given day. As such, volume and intensity of an athlete’s training program will have to be adjusted according to their lifestyle, activity level, and sport specific training sessions. An athlete who doesn’t need much leg development will be better off focusing on his upper body, core, flexibility, speed, etc rather than squatting 500-600 lbs pounds for endless reps. Doing so improves performance, prevents injuries, and eliminates excess volume that could result in over-training. One should focus on doing the minimum amount of training/volume needed to produce the desired result. A quote I recall from Ian King, as it relates to training is “”If in doubt, do less!”; this quote has strongly influenced my thought process. Any unnecessary volume beyond that is counterproductive and just adds needless fatigue that catches up with time.

How can an athlete, or any trainee, maximize recovery?

Sean: Basics matter. Proper nutrition, adequate sleep, controlling inflammation levels, reducing stress, hydration & flexibility work should take of that. Other occasional methods like deep tissue massages and ice baths can be beneficial when properly applied. But, nothing beats the basics.

From your experience, what are the best supplements to enhance recovery?

Sean: I’d say protein, of course. However, protein supplements are great mainly because of their convenience. Yes, a piece of chicken can supply you with protein, but whey protein is more convenient and could be taken almost anywhere – Let’s be honest -who wants to carry chicken breasts to the gym with them ????. I am also a big fan of Taurine. Taurine improves muscle recovery and slightly decreases inflammation. Overall, health-oriented supplements help tremendously. After all, if you improve your health, your body’s functions and recovery will automatically improve. So, essentially, you want to give your body what it needs. Give your body the right tools and it’ll give you more than what you need. ZMA is another good supplement to consider if you have zinc and/or magnesium deficiencies. It’s also good for sleep. Melatonin is helpful for sleep as well, which will in turn enhance recovery. Creatine is a fantastic ergogenic aid. It’s excellent for performance. Supplements that help with stress, anxiety, etc, can also be quite beneficial to athletes.

Me: What’s the best advice you can give to someone who is injured but wants to train? And how can someone speed up achy joints recovery?

Sean: In regards to injuries, the best thing to do is to work around injuries to keep progressing and to avoid making it worse. Also, analyzing what caused the injury to begin with is crucial. This allow us to avoid injuries in the future. Joint supplements can help. Be sure to not let your ego get in the way – don’t try to be a hero and push through an exercise that’s painful! Promoting blood flow can help tremendously. Avoiding injuries ultimately comes down to adjusting volume, fixing imbalances, working on technique, weak points, improving core stability, and following a balanced training program.

Me: That’s all for now. Once again, thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this interview. It’s been a privilege and I look forward to interviewing you again in the future.

Sean: Thank you for allowing me to do this. It’s been a pleasure!

Bottom Line
▪ Follow a well-structured and balanced training program.
▪ Analyze your physical health/posture, sport specific demands and build your training program around those demands.
▪ Nothing beats a well-structured training program and a solid nutrition plan.
▪ Sleep is more important than people think.
▪ Supplements can help. Improving your health and correcting deficiencies will allow your body to carry out its tasks better.
▪ Focus on making progress.
▪ Avoid injuries.
▪ Work around injuries.



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