The 2013 NSCA Personal Trainer Conference was held at the newly renovated Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas. The conference took place over two days: Friday March 8 and Saturday March 9. I was slated to speak on Saturday. My topic: The Science of Squatting.
I arroved in Vegas around 11 pm Thursday evening after teaching a kinesiology class until 4:30 pm EST. I’m in New York so the flight is 5 hours with a 3 hour time difference. To say I was jet lagged upon arrival is akin to saying the Ronnie Coleman is somewhat muscular. Didn’t matter. I was stoked for the conference.
For those who’ve never been to an NSCA event, the quality of speakers and topics is always top notch. I’ve attended every NSCA Personal Trainer Conference for the past decade; this was without question the best line-up of presenters ever assembled.
Sessions ran from 8 am to 5 pm on the hour with a lunch break from 12-1 pm. Each session lasted 50 minutes.
The format of the Personal Trainer Conference allows for each speaker to present the same topic twice in a given day; once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Four speakers are presenting at any one time, so this affords attendees two opportunities to see a presenter of interest. Still, even if you go to as many sessions as possible, you will still miss out on some presentations. Because of these limitations, I unfortunately was unable to attend the sessions of a number of excellent presenters. These included uber-trainer Jay Dawes, speed-training guru Loren Landau, nutrion expert Marie Spano, the always innovative and creative Nick Tumminello, Alwyn Cosgrove, Phil Kaplan, Robert Linkul, JC Santana, Fraser Quelch, and a few others. What’s more, Lou Schuler, Nick Winkelman, and Martin Rooney all presented at the same time that I did, so unfortunately I missed out on these sessions as well.
So with this as background…what follows is my overview on what transpired. I’ve divided the post into two parts. Here I’ll go over Friday’s events; in Part II I’ll cover Saturday.
The first session I attended on Friday morning was by my good friend and colleague, Alan Aragon. I had the pleasure of introducing Alan here, and noted that he is as knowledgeable about nutrition as anyone in the field. Just as importantly, he understands practical application of nutritional principles to real-world dietary practices. This is a skill that’s lacking for many in the field. Alan’s topic was titled, “The Paleo Diet: Claims Versus Evidence.” He systematically took apart all the claims of the diet, discussing logical fallacies and flaws in the interpretation of research. The overriding point was not that there is anything inherently wrong with the diet itself, but rather that it is not the be-all-end-all way to structure a nutritional regimen. Chalk one up for science
The second session of the day was given by Dr. Len Kravitz, a professor in the exercise physiology department at the University of New Mexico. I’ve known Len for years and he is without question the most polished speaker on the fitness circuit today. His energy and enthusiasm are contagious. His content superb. His powerpoints unsurpassed. I’ve often joked that Len could recite the alphabet and make it interesting. In this lecture he discussed various strategies to enhance metabolism. One area of focus was non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Simply stated, NEAT is every activity you do other than formal exercise, and even includes things such as fidgeting. A take home point Len made was to incorporate regular “NEAT breaks” where you get up from your chair and just take a walk around. Doesn’t sound like much, but research shows that this alone can burn a significant number of calories. He also discussed performing metabolic circuits for fat loss. These included some novel exercises, demonstrated in video clips by strongman competitor Jonathan Mike. As expected, an overall terrific presentation.
Next up came an eagerly anticipated session: the debate between Alan Aragon and low-carb research expert Jeff Volek titled, “Reconsidering the Role of Carbohydrates: Is Low Carb Dieting Optimal for Improving Body Composition, Health, and Performance?” Alan did an excellent job reviewing this session on his blog here so I won’t rehash what transpired. Instead, I’ll offer my opinion of the debate. Although both speakers did an excellent job presenting their positions, my take after seeing both the morning and afternoon sessions is that Alan had the clear advantage from an evidence-based standpoint. He was able to refute virtually all of Jeff’s points, and make a strong case that carb intake should be based on individual needs with most doing well with moderate consumption. I’ll also note that I had a chance to speak to Jeff following the presentation. He told me that his primary interest in low carb diets deals with those who are either diabetic or pre-diabetic. He conceded the diet is not ideal for gaining muscle and said he doesn’t feel it confers any advantage over non-ketogenic from a weight loss standpoint. As reflected both in the literature and through experience, optimum nutrition is highly individualized. I predict that nutrigenomics is our future, where diets will be customized based on a cheek swab of a person’s DNA. The technology is already here. It just needs to be perfected. That day is coming, perhaps soon.
The final session before lunch was given by my good friend and frequent collaborator, Bret Contreras. Bret is affectionately known as “The Glute Guy.” And for good reason. No one, bar none, knows more about the gluteals and their form and function than Bret. Heck, he’s doing his PhD on the topic! Not surprisingly, Bret’s presentation was titled, “The Science of Glute Training.” Despite knowing Bret for years, this was actually the first time I had the priverlege to see him speak. He didn’t disappoint. Bret has a unique presentation style. His sense of humor balances high-level technical content. He covered a wide array of topics on the glutes, including their five major roles and the varying torque angles associated with different glute exercises. What I found most interesting were the many tidbits of info Bret provided as to how train the muscle for optimal strength, power, and muscular development. The perfect blend of science and application.
Following lunch, I stopped in to see Joe Dowdell’s presentation, “Structuring the Training Session for Optimal Results.” Joe is one of the top trainers in the industry. His knowledge of programming is vast and backed by years of practical experience. Joe’s session was a “hands-on” presentation where he actively took attendees through his recommendations. This included various warm-up and activation activation drills, as well as specific exercises designed to enhance improvements in body composition. Very useful info.
The final session of the day was “Benefits and Drawbacks of Using Kettlebells in a Training Program” by Dr. Bill Campbell. Bill is a noted professor and researcher at the University of South Florida in Tampa. As you might expect, his presentation was a research-based analysis on the use of kettlebells. Bill did an excellent job overviewing the peer-reviewed literature investigating kettlebells as a modality. It was a balanced lecture that touched on the implications of using kettlebells to improve body composition, strength/power, metabolism, and low back pain. The evidence is still evolving on the topic, and Bill highlighted directions for future research.
Following Friday’s sessions, there was a social by the pool where all attendees and speakers got to mingle and network. Had a glass of Cabernet…or perhaps two. It was great to get a chance to meet a lot of trainers who I’ve corresponded with through social media but had never spoken to personally. I then went to dinner with a number of friends including Bret Contreras, Alan Aragon, Joe Dowdell, Dan Trink, Nick Tummniello, Lou Schuler, and Chad Waterbury. A power-gathering of fitness pros if there ever was one.
It was an action-packed day. Fortunately, there was still another full day of presentations to come as well as my own lecture. More on that in the next post.