What I Learned at the SWIS Sympsoium
On a Sunday morning my wife, Sophie, and I got into our vehicle on a dreary morning and began our five-hour drive back home after experiencing one of the most educational weekends of my life. In the industry this is the SWIS seminar, but it’s also known as the Society of Weight-Training Injury Specialists (SWIS) weekend. Neither of us could really get over how productive, informative, and valuable the previous days had been for us, nor could we really put our feelings into words. She’s a certified personal trainer, coach, and former physique competitor; I’m a lifelong lifter, hockey coach, strength coach, and former competitor in both bodybuilding and strongman; and both of us share a passion for all things “iron.” But nothing could have prepared me for how much I learned in just one weekend, which I’ll now share with MUSCLE INSIDER readers.
SWIS Kick-Off Day
Upon our arrival at around 1:30 a.m. Friday morning, Sophie and I could hear what we figured were the voices and laughter of tomorrow’s presenters in the hotel’s lounge area. Although I didn’t jump into super fanboy mode right away and investigate, I fell asleep anticipating a great atmosphere with peers and colleagues all in the same spot for the same reason: to share knowledge and experiences with doctors, chiropractors, trainers, coaches, athletes, and seasoned weight-training enthusiasts.
When I explain to my colleagues and friends where we were that weekend, I have to explain that although they may not recognize the names of the presenters, these were the who’s-who of the world of strength training. These presenters were the Wayne Gretzkys and the Bobby Orrs; the Edwins and the Joey Vottos; the Michael Jordans and the Steph Currys; and the Usain Bolts and the Ben Johnsons of the strength world. Incidentally, Ben Johnson actually arrived on Friday evening to candidly share his experiences as a panel member speaking on steroid use and abuse. Although the presenters were incredibly informative, here is a rundown of the ones whom I felt provided me with the most practical information as a lifter.
Strength and Conditioning Specialists
My morning started off watching Matt Nichol present. He is not only the founder of BioSteel sports beverage but also the head trainer of some of the NHL’s brightest stars. He spoke of his introduction to the industry as a former football player, his job as the strength and conditioning coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, his training strategies with his athletes, and his distaste for doing things simply because “that is the way things have always been done.” As a trainer and a coach, his session reaffirmed that regardless of how you’re training athletes, keeping it competitive yet safe within the group often yields the greatest gains, as no athlete wants to be perceived as the loser—even if the contest is a Friday afternoon 20-meter sprint.
From an interesting sport-specific presentation, I was treated to a movement-specific one. The legendary Bill Kazmaier and elite powerlifter Patrick Halloway took to the podium ready for a hands-on presentation. These two took volunteers from the crowd and actually watched and critiqued form on the bench press, squat, and deadlift. I snuck into the deadlift line and performed reps with 135 pounds under these two pairs of watchful eyes. While Bill seemed A-okay with my relatively low starting stance and upright back, Patrick countered by explaining I was “crowding” the bar, which was forcing me to “squat” it up. Bill didn’t have an issue with that, but needless to say, I was already anxious to get home and try to change my setup and see what happens under “real” weight.
Continuing with movements within the “training” stream of presentations, Matt Wenning was up next. Matt shared his beliefs and theories, and they seemed to revolve around becoming stronger. He is currently working with several fire departments, and in the last few years, his guidance and coaching has saved those departments hundreds of thousands of dollars of insurance claims per year. How? By increasing relative deadlift strength, lower back injuries drop dramatically. It made perfect sense. Then Matt proceeded to explain his love of the sumo deadlift as a superior movement for a common lifter or athlete, not necessarily a world-class power-lifter. Wenning explained that world-class sumo deadlifters are also world-class conventional deadlifters, but the opposite isn’t always true. He asked, “If your sumo pull is weaker than your conventional pull, why aren’t you pulling sumo?” He had an athlete from his gym to demonstrate proper sumo deadlift form and left us with a few tips:
- If you want to deadlift well, deadlift!
- Head position predetermines sternum position, so keep your head neutral or up!
- Sumo creates better hip mobility, which makes it better for everyday lifters.
- The sumo deadlift initiates in the traps and the rhomboids to “take the slack out.” If you’re comfortable before the lift starts, you’re doing it wrong.
- Push your feet apart on the floor to break gravity. If you don’t, your butt will raise and strength will disappear.
- Due to the low blood flow to this relatively small muscle group, lower back should be trained every three days.
Matt’s seminar was a real eye-opener and got me really motivated to get back to the gym and put his tips into practice with myself, my training partners, and athletes.
Into the early evening came a presenter to whom I was really looking forward. Over the past five to 10 years I’ve dedicated months to following some of Christian Thibidault’s programs to a tee. From his “I, Bodybuilder” program to his “Building for Bad” workouts, I’ve loved virtually everything he has published. This evening, he was speaking about including “loaded stretches” to your workouts to add muscle mass.
- The closer you get to the end of a workout, the more primed your muscles are to absorb any and all nutrients you can provide to them.
- A loaded stretch further primes the muscle (or “opens it up”) and therefore speeds up recovery and development.
- Use a loaded stretch during the last 2 to 4 sets of a workout and hold a stretch for 45 to 60 seconds in an isolated exercise in a 2:1 work-to-rest ratio.
During his presentation I couldn’t help but reminisce about the “positions of flexion” workouts from over 10 years ago. I put these into practice right away and can assure you that as grueling as 12 to 15 reps of peak contractions can be, holding a load still for 45 to 60 seconds in a stretched position is an entirely different experiment in focus and resiliency.
The Business of Fitness
Elite FTS founder Dave Tate decided to not speak specifically about the gym business; instead, he focused on business in general because “business is business.” He spoke about reframing the five W’s in order to devise a successful business plan, and about managing business, training, family, and negativity. He spoke about what has worked for him and why it may or may not work for someone else, and stressed how important relationships are and how important it is as a business owner to give thanks where they’re due. The biggest inspiration came when he explained how some people (professional or otherwise) brush off other people when they’re approached with questions. From a business standpoint, he said the dismissing of a question could be a lost prospect; from a personal standpoint, he reverted back to one of his own personal mantras of “live, learn, and pass on.” He said you should be honoured that someone chose to actually ask you instead of Googling their answer. He explained that if you can make people feel like their question matters and be honest with them, the relationship that is built far outweighs a business relationship. Dave Tate practices what he preaches. After his presentation, when he easily could have shared brief answers, Dave spent over 30 minutes answering my personal questions and sharing his ideas and experience with me. The conversation must have looked interesting because about halfway through, Matt Wenning approached us and joined in. I felt a little guilty keeping these two gentlemen from sitting in on another presentation, but just being able to sit and pick their brains for half an hour was something I’ll never forget.
The Shadow Revealed
Our evening ended with none other than “The Shadow” Dorian Yates taking the podium. I’d introduced myself to Dorian earlier the previous morning, and we had the opportunity to chat and snap a couple of pics. He’d been reserved and relatively quiet on the previous day, but during the evening, especially during the question and answer session he held, he was far more candid and entertaining. He fielded many questions regarding diet, training, and mind-set, but the highlight occurred when Matt Warner asked Dorian about the bent-over rowing style he had made famous. Dorian proceeded to call (a now very nervous) Matt to the front. The best way to learn is to do, right? Dorian set Matt’s feet and suggested a proper knee bend, identified the proper angle of his lower back in relation to his chest, and then helped him make the mind/muscle connection specifically at the lower insertion of Matt’s lats. When he sat back down, Matt admitted to shaking like a leaf up there despite using what he called “play weights” because “Holy $#*@! It’s Dorian #$%&ing Yates!” As you could imagine, after a session of sumo deadlifts on back day, I of course incorporated some strict Yates bent-rows as an accessory!
Final Thoughts on SWIS
As I try to come up with a way to conclude and sum up my weekend, I realize there really aren’t enough words to express how I really felt after the symposium ended. I was amazed at how professional and scientifically inclined some presenters such as John Meadows and Christian Thibidault were. Yet I was even more amazed by how genuinely thankful these two men were, simply because I made an effort to speak to them. I felt honoured to be able to sit and have conversations with humble and down-to-earth men such as Dave Tate and Matt Wenning. I felt privileged to have performed a deadlift in front of a strength legend such as Bill Kazmaier and to have been able to sit in the same room as the one and only Dorian Yates and listen to him speak for 90 minutes. Lastly, I feel lucky—lucky to have had such a great friend as Scott Welch facilitate this amazing weekend for my wife and me.
It was a weekend of a lifetime that I’ll never forget as I continue to regale whoever will listen with stories of my experiences and interactions with some of the biggest, best, and most powerful men and women in the fitness industry. If you happened to be in attendance, you definitely know what I’m talking about. If you passed up the opportunity to attend, I strongly advise you not to make the same mistake twice.