Q&A With Dr. Joel Seedman: How to Learn and Evolve as a Strength Coach

Dr. Joel Seedman's unique approach has redefined how we think about strength and conditioning.

Dr. Joel Seedman, owner of Advanced Human Performance, is one of the top strength and conditioning experts with 13 years of experience training top athletes, powerlifters, bodybuilders and people who just want to get stronger and live without pain.

Through his constant curiosity and investigative process, he experiments with new methodologies that redefine how we think about strength and conditioning—which you can regularly see in action on his Instagram.

I had the opportunity to interview Joel to learn more about how he's developed as a strength coach to help others become better and more inquisitive strength coaches.

David LaPlaca: What are the main resources that you attribute to your knowledge base?

Seedman: The main area that contributes to my knowledge is self-seeking and investigation rather than relying only on one source, what one person says, looking up to a specific coach or listening to one specific trainer or ideology. I look at all of the different methods, techniques and protocols that are out there, and compare and contrast and take the best components of each and turn it into my own philosophy. I come up with what I believe is the best of everything that I've come across over the years of investigation.

During the research process, how did you determine what was good information?

I was in school for pretty much 10 years straight. I looked at what I would hear other coaches talk about in the practical setting and compare it to what the scientific literature had to say about it. If it seemed to match up and I had success testing on myself—I always guinea pigged and tested on myself—then, I was like, "OK, this seems to be pretty legit." If it didn't line up with the science, I would still usually try it and see for myself.

Did you find most of the information could be validated with studies?

A lot of the stuff that you hear coaches talk about, you cannot really find a study that's an exact replica of what the coach is doing. What you could do is kind of put pieces of different studies together.

You might find that a coach is recommending a particular exercise for hitting a muscle group. Even if there isn't an EMG study done on that particular exercise, you can go back and look at similar exercises to see if a similar movement pattern and joint angles produce a high degree of activation in that particular muscle.

Usually, I had to look at multiple investigations to see if a specific training idea from a coach worked or just look at the basic scientific principles of muscle fibers and neurophysiology to see if it lines up.

What knowledge from your education and research do you keep going back to when you're coaching?

I would say different aspects of neurophysiology, biomechanics and structural physiology, but making sure everything is congruent with each other. It shouldn't contradict. The biomechanical aspects shouldn't contradict the neurophysiology component.

This is why I do a lot of stuff with eccentric isometrics. You look at the different science behind it, everything lines up. You look at the neurophysiology of muscle spindles and intrafusal muscle fibers, motor unit recruitment, lever arms and elastic energy, and then you look at the structural physiology of things like the sliding filament theory, nature of how muscles contract, force-length relationship, and length-tension relationship. All that stuff, it's all congruent with each other. Whereas a lot of things contradict. The neurophysiology may contradict the biomechanical part and so on and so forth.

Where should a novice strength coach start if they want to improve their knowledge base?

They need to look at the different strength and conditioning journals that are out there. Also look at a lot of research review articles because it basically sums up all the different areas and all the different studies that have been done over the last three, four or five years.

There are certain books, such as Essentials of Strength and Conditioning by the National Strength and Conditioning Association—it is the one they use for the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist test. I think that is a really good book. Do I agree with 100 percent of everything in there? No, but I think a lot of it is pretty sound. Even if you do not agree with it, it sums up everything you generally see in the training world. It is a really good educational piece that I think pretty much every trainer should at least be familiar with it.

What would you say are the essential skills that you use when you are coaching on an everyday basis?

I think three things. One, being able to take the science that I have learned and practically apply it. And then the art of communication. How do you explain things to an individual? Because you could know it backward and forwards, but if you can't explain it well then that's no good. That's why teaching it to yourself first is huge because if you teach it to yourself then you can understand why you are doing it and then you can teach it to someone else.

And then the art of communication. How do you explain things to an individual? Because you could know it backward and forwards, but if you can't explain it well then that's no good. That's why teaching it to yourself first is huge because if you teach it to yourself then you can understand why you are doing it and then you can teach it to someone else.

Lastly, having a good eye. Having a critical eye and being able to look at every view or angle of an exercise or a movement pattern is essential. Not just the front or the side or the back, but looking at the entire thing and at every component, from the toes to the head, all the way up.

What would you attribute to being the most important experiences that have led you to becoming the strength coach that you are today?

Constant injuries of myself. Even when I first started training and some issues I would see in clients—I never really had a huge injury with a client. It really just comes down to the clients just learning proper technique. But 10 years ago my client would say, "Hey, my knees are bothering me, what is going on here?" Those things made me look further like, "Wait, why is this causing knee pain?" Exercise is supposed to therapeutic, why is this hurting them?

Then for myself, I got to the point where my joints were killing bad when I was in my early and mid-twenties. I realized something was not right even though I was doing a lot of things according to the textbook way of doing training. Well, it wasn't working. It was breaking my body down. It wasn't that my body was unique, it was just my body is very sensitive and responds to the stimulus.

So injuries, pain, inflammation, lack of progress when applying different training protocols...those were the key things that helped me progress and advance to another level. It forced me to look beyond what the current guidelines were and look deeper in the research and start redefining what proper exercise was rather than relying so much on what other people are saying.

For more information about Dr. Joel Seedman please visit his website and YouTube channel.