PSM Interview: Andy Reay

Interview with Strength and Conditioning Coach and Head of S&C, Andy Reay.

Head of S&C and Strength & Conditioning Coach, Andy Reay is here today to talk us through the discipline of Strength & Conditioning.

Andy explains what the discipline is, what it has to offer and how it can help you get better – plus he busts a few myths along the way!

Can you talk us through how you got into the discipline of S&C?

At school I studied P.E. and did well with both my GCSE’s and A‑levels and went on to do my degree in Sports Science as well, so it’s always been something I’ve been interested in and I enjoyed it, so it felt like the natural path. 

Also, I’ve always been interested in sports and the body; they were my two main motivators. I played rugby since I was 7, so I played throughout my teens, my 20’s, professionally and from training as a professional I become interested in it {S&C} that way. From there I started doing Personal Training; that was on the side from my own training and so it all really started from there.

How did the progression go for you, from personal training and working with rugby teams to becoming a Strength and Conditioning coach?

I did a lot of personal training in Bristol and as I got to know more about it and knew that I was really enjoying it I decided to do my degree at Manchester Metropolitan Distance. When I’d started studying, I was given the opportunity to do some Strength and Conditioning training with one of my rugby clubs, Ealing Trailfinders, and when I’d stopped playing rugby full time professionally, I continued to focus more on Strength and Conditioning coaching. 

After gaining more experience I was then offered the role of Head of S&C at Roslyn Park which was my first main role in the discipline. When I was at London Scottish, I knew Roonie Coryton — a clinician who used to work at PSM’s Bank clinic – and I came here for treatment! I always liked the clinic so when a place at PSM became available I went for it and that was that really. 

Is S&C and extension of your degree?

Yes, I did a Sports Science degree and I was always more interested in the S&C side of the study as opposed to the research element; the more practical side was my area of interest. 

How did you find the transition between your previous experiences with personal training and working with rugby clubs to coming to work in S&C at PSM?

I didn’t find it too difficult, because I’d been personal training outside my usual commitments, I was used to doing hours here and there with clients and so getting on with and spending the time with people was enjoyable and something I was comfortable doing but I wanted to lean more towards the injury side of things and specialise. When I was at Roslyn Park, I used to work closely with Physios, and I was able to get some rehab experience there, so it followed on quite nicely. I found that the aspect I most enjoyed was bringing people back from injury, so the transition was reasonably comfortable to be honest. 

Also, I learned so much being around physios; they knew much more in depth about injury than I did so that was great for me, and by extension we learn from each other as well; I think I can help teach physios about the strength side of rehab and how that might benefit their patients and vice versa so it works really well together. 

On that note, with PSM working all under one roof together, how would you say that S&C fits in to the rehab process?

I think you can always train, no matter what, but I think people who are injured tend to go down the path of I’m going to rest until this gets better and then I can start again’ but actually you can improve other parts of your body or other parts of your performance, whilst your injured. 

There is always something we can do around the injured area; we have techniques and ideas that we bounce off each other about, how we can keep people in the best state going through their recovery. So that when they’re getting back to their sport or lifestyle, they’re back to where they were, before they got injured, or better ideally. So, I think we {S&C} should fit in to the process as soon as a patient is ready to get into the gym because there is opportunity there to improve. Alongside Physio, I think S&C is very valuable. 

Also, I think when it comes to injury, someone can get injured because they can’t cope with the demand, of their sport or movement, so it’s our job to help them get back to where they were and then better still so that they can cope with that demand the next time around. 

How would you explain how S&C differs from Personal Training?

All S&C coaches have to be degree qualified, for one. Within in PSM most of us are accredited as well. I think that gives a certain level of you know what you’re getting’ because we’ve been accredited, and we’ve passed that level of education. 

With going through the S&C degree, you get to learn research techniques, how to pull things apart, how to take specifics from research and work out the benefits as opposed to seeing things and simply trying them. 

I think my sports background as has been helpful as well because I’ve trained all my life and I like to test things myself. So, I think people who don’t practice what they preach are missing a trick. 

But there are great PTs who can really help people and give them a wealth of fitness knowledge. With S&C coaches there’s the added knowledge that we’ve been put through that level and amount of education, so we’ll know a more in depth about an injury or injury prevention and able to cater to a more specific need. 

Also it can depend on what you’re after; if you’re training for an event or you want specifics then that might lean toward S&C because we would understand how to break your sport down, how to work out the movements, how to put that in to a programme in order to deliver. If you were trying to get fit or worked hard then a Personal Trainer might be who you go to; although arguably an S&C coach could do that as well. So ultimately it depends on your goals. 

Within your programmes, what are your go to’ pieces of kit or most used gym equipment items?

It depends; I’m very much a strength guy. I think for any sport you need to be strong enough to cope with it and so I do a lot of stuff in the gym, I use a lot of strength training equipment. I think people come to see me so that they can get strong enough to do things outside of the gym, so I would tend to programme your typical endurance work for people to do on their own and then I would focus on the strength side of it in our sessions. 

Equipment-wise, I use all-sorts, depending on the goal but generally I focus on getting people strong enough and then they can go and do the hard yards outside of here. 

Do you make any programmes that use very little equipment or is mainly body based?

It depends what people have access to. If they have an all singing, all dancing gym then I can give them a programme to suit that environment but if they hate the gym then I have to think outside the box. 

So when you’re making a programme for someone you see once a week are you planning what they’re going to do for the other 6 days? 

Absolutely. Generally, if someone sees me once a week, I will have a plan of what they’re going to do for the rest of that week. This way their progress can stay consistent. 

As well as the weekly sessions and personalised programmes, how else do you support the patient’s you see at PSM?

I would add elements to the session that we’ve previously gone over and they’ve been doing themselves away from the clinic, to check that they’re doing them well. Or if they were, for example, an endurance athlete, I would use my session for the strength training and then plan the running for their own time, because they don’t need to run or cycle with me. Patients, whilst being seen at PSM, have access to the PSM gym so for some people I’ll train them once and then programme another session that they can come in and do on their own or even incorporate into their rehab. 

In terms of accessibility, all patients can contact us at the clinic during our clinical hours, but they can also email us directly at a times that suit them — we understand that people have busy working and personal lives — and I’ll try and respond as soon as I can. 

You’ve mentioned that you train athletes for specific event goals. Do you work with athletes only, or is S&C for everyone?

Yes, S&C is for everyone. My client base is very varied. At the moment I have a patient who is training for an Ironman challenge, I have a woman who is an Olympic lifter and I have people who simply want to get fitter and stronger for themselves and their lives. I have patients who are focusing on losing weight and of course, we have patients who are coming back from injury, so the discipline really is for everybody. 

The patients you listed there, do they all come straight to S&C or have they come from Rehab or Sports Doctors, for example?

A bit of both, generally they’ll come to us after the rehab process, whether that’s with a Sports Doctor, Physio or any of the disciplines we have at PSM, because that’s how our Clinic is set up to work together and that’s how we find the best course of treatment for that person. But I’ve had a few people come in via word of mouth straight to S&C as well so there are people who come straight to us. 

The majority of people I’ve seen who have sustained injuries, have done their rehab process with me, enjoyed it and then continued further. So then I have to set new targets; for example, the patient I see who’s training for the Ironman started off with an injury, wanting to do a 10K within a certain time, which we did and then a half Ironman in a certain time, which we did as well and now he’s training for the Ironman which he’s doing in 3 weeks. 

Sounds like you can get addicted to Goals’.

Yes, well that’s what tends to happen! I think people surprise themselves with what they can do, it’s a good feeling to achieve your goals and keep getting stronger. 

What would be a typical scenario where someone would come straight to S&C, rather than to a Sports Dr or Physio first?

If they have a target goal. For example, I had a patient who signed up for Run-Bike-Kayak and he was a little bit lost so he needed a programme. In that circumstance he was able to come straight to me {S&C} and get his training plan. 

But with others, those who have sustained injuries, would come through the rehab process. Generally people who have some sort of a target, who are not currently injured; it can be something aesthetic: weight loss or muscle building or they might go down the performance route which means they need a training and performance plan to make sure that they’re fully prepared. 

Could you talk us through a typical S&C appointment/​session?

Initially, a patient would come into the clinic and we would do an assessment. So, I would go through how they move, look at some certain key aspects which I think are important and from there I’d identify where we need to strengthen. Then we work out what the patient wants to achieve, where they are now and where they want to get to. This is all the information we need, and it’s the process necessary, to make a personalised programme. 

Then it’s: get warmed up and get in the gym!

S&C is certainly a scientific and evidence focused discipline. Can you explain some of the performance and functionality tests which PSM offers?

We’ve just introduced the Lactate Threshold Test, which means we can essentially work out very specific training zones. It’s a test where you take small blood samples, from a person currently performing their sport, e.g. a marathon runner will be on a treadmill and at different intervals we will take the blood sample to measure the lactate at certain levels, and as those levels go up the blood lactate will increase and we can calculate the training parameters from there. 

How do you take the blood samples?

It’s a small finger prick, with a blood sampler.

If you were not keen on needles, that might be quite difficult?

It could be yes, but that’s just one test we offer. We can offer other tests which don’t include blood testing, and these are quite accurate as well, but some people just like to have that sort of gold standard test’. However, there are other ways that we can get that information and get it pretty close to Lactate Testing.

Once you’ve had your blood taken, what’s the process of the Lactate Threshold Test?

You’d start at a certain pace (running or cycling), after 3 12 minutes we would take your blood sample, we put it in a little machine which tells you the lactate level in your blood and then you would up the intensity for the next 3 12 minutes and take another blood sample and measure it. You’d keep repeating this and as you do the blood lactate accumulates slowly and then you reach a point when it goes up exponentially and that’s your lactate threshold. If you were in an endurance race and you went over that, you would get super tired. So, we could work out where that is, we could train around it and start to push that up so people can last longer in races at a faster speed. 

Also once you’ve found that point you would train just above it which generally pushes your threshold up, so people can go faster for longer without fatiguing. 

Does the Lactate Threshold Test include heart rate monitoring?

Yes, during the test you’d have the heart rate monitor on so when we reach your lactate threshold, we would know where your heart rate is at that point – obviously when you’re on a bike, you’re not going to know exactly but it’s good to keep an eye on it – say your lactate threshold was a 160 beats per minute you would try to stay just under that so you’re not getting into that fatigue. 

And if you go higher would you have to stop?

If you go higher you get that lactate feeling in your legs so above that is when you get the lactate build up, you know that burning feeling? That’s when you’ll tend to suffer.

What are some of the other Tests that PSM can provide?

We also offer, Occlusion Training which is for people who when injured can’t load their muscles quite as much – it sounds barbaric – but it restricts the blood flow a little bit and you can get similar strength and muscle size gains from that. So that’s quite a nice one for anyone who is injured because actually that’s something they can do around their injury to keep moving. 

We can do One Rep Max Testing with bar velocity – we’ve got some kit/​equipment which measures bar velocities. Essentially when you lift a weight you move at a certain speed, so you can lift quite light loads and measure the speed and it can correlate to a One Rep Max. It means people don’t have to come in and kill themselves in the gym they can work out their One Rep Max from something much lighter. Again, this is something we can then use in the programming. 

Thanks for talking to us Andy and taking the time to explain all about Strength & Conditioning. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we go?

Yes, just on the science focus of S&C; we {the S&C team} have our own research, we share and talk about research all day every day, so we’re always at the front end when the science-based information and findings are being released.

Also, we’re close in the S&C department so if someone finds something interesting then we will share it and talk about it. We have CPD’s every few months where we go through new trends or findings, so we always try to keep on the ball. 

Andy is the Head of S&C at Pure Sports Medicine and works from our Moorgate Clinic. For more information, or to book an appointment with any of our coaches, click here.