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Interview with Mike O'Donnell DC, CCSP, CSCS

GP recently interviewed Mike O'Donnell DC, CCSP, CSCS. Dr. Mike and his wife, Jessica, run Back in Action Chiropractic located in Fort Wayne, IN. Not only do they provide expert understanding of chiropractic and rehabilitative care, they also bring to the table the unique insight as highly accomplished strength athletes. Simply put, their accomplishments would take up an entire blog post. It's rare to find a clinician and staff not only capable of identifying with athletes and addressing their needs appropriately, but also able to apply these same concepts to improve outcomes for patients. I had the privilege of being classmates with Mike during our chiropractic education at Palmer College in Davenport, IA. Once I got the understanding of Mike's background as both a strength athlete and coach, I knew he would be an invaluable resource not only in my training as an aspiring strength athlete, but in my clinical development as well. My brother and I are truly fortunate to have him and Jess as friends and mentors.

Now on with the interview.

GP: Provide our readers with some information about your background as an athlete, competitive powerlifter and strength coach.
MO: The day after 7th grade football ended I began lifting in my basement. I competed in my first powerlifting meet when I was 15 and won the ADFPA teen nationals that same year. Through high school I played football and was team captain. To train for football I simply did more speed and plyometric work. As a high school and junior lifter, I won six national titles and went to the IPF Junior Worlds, taking the bronze in my last year, 1999. I competed against many lifters who are regarded as the best in the sport today. I have lifted in the USAPL Open Nationals several times. As an undergrad at Western Michigan I studied Exercise Science. This did not include enough sport science to make me happy, so I did tons of research on my own. After my bachelor degree I worked under Buddy Morris at Pitt for a short time. That was a great learning experience. Eventually I decided to go get my DC degree and learn much more about chiropractic and rehabilitation.

GP: You are well educated on the training methodologies utilized in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries. Could you explain briefly how those methodologies differ from North American approaches and the impact it has on athletic development here in the United States?
MO: In North America, athletes start playing a sport as unprepared youth with no background in general conditioning. This isn't always true, but we have no system to condition young athletes besides just playing the sport. In an Eastern model, camps are held without a sport focus to condition young athletes, and the specialization comes later. In general, early specialization is a mistake. This has been proven to limit progress, lead to early burnout, and increase injury rate.

GP: You have worked with athletes of all ages and abilities. In your opinion, where are we still falling short in the development of athletes in America?
MO: We fall short in several ways. Early level coaches (high school and below) often have poor qualifications. Also athletes are eager to maximize their results as early as possible. This leads to poor skill development. It is extremely difficult for athletes to unlearn poor habits or a poor work ethic. All too often young athletes look to non-training means (i.e. drugs) for improvement as well.

GP: What would you identify as the fundamental components of effective and efficient programming for athletes?
MO: Once good general preparation is established, the programming should be as specific as possible. Factors like frequency, work load and intensity vary from athlete to athlete and at different phases of training. Weaknesses should be assessed constantly and addressed, but focus should never be taken off the sport form. Overall, one should train as often as possibly but remain as fresh as possible. The programming should never compromise technique.

GP: One common theme you’ll see among trainers/coaches is very little thought that is given to the order of exercise selection/variation during a training plan. It’s almost as if many trainers just ‘make-up’ workouts. Give us your thoughts on the importance of organization of training for athletes?
MO: Organization of training and exercise selection expertise are prerequisites to training anyone. Entire teams should not all be performing the same training. This would assume the entire team has the same deficiencies. There are way too many under qualified "strength coaches" and trainers out there. Even some of the highly regarded strength coaches or online trainers are a joke. This is why I personally have no tolerance for movements and training styles that are fad- based. Put some thought into what you, or your athletes, really need and address it in your training. Further, organizing training should be an ongoing process. There are no perfect programs. Just phases or training blocks. On the other hand, there are some coaches that over coach their lifters/athletes. They are so worried about their own role in the athlete's development that the athlete cannot focus on their performance, or maybe the training isn't being attacked with the mentality that it should be.

GP: What do you see as the most common mistakes coaches and trainers are making in the preparation of athletes?
MO: The most common mistakes - the coach who tries to be the athlete's friend (not hard on them); poor analysis of training needs and the current state of the athlete; and the most important aspect in my opinion (this goes for anyone seeking a great PT, DC, manual therapist or strength coach) is that the coach cannot identify with the athlete because they weren't an athlete themselves. I know several above average coaches that are held back my the mere fact that their athletes cannot identify with them. Either they weren't athletes at all, or they are an unimpressive presence altogether!

GP: What are the qualities and attributes that athletes and parents should look for in a trainer/strength coach before investing in their services?
MO: Sporting background and accomplishments, educational background and accomplishments, and clinical competence, methods, and track record. Period. Anything less, and I am skeptical about what I am getting. I don't care who has the best DVD!

GP: How has the background as a competitive strength athlete and strength coach benefited you as a chiropractor and your ability to manage patients from acute stage to reactivation through active care?
MO: This is a great question, because I tell people that ask that I use my training, coaching, and professional background everyday when treating patients. My philosophy in the clinic is the more accurate the assessment, the more accurately I can apply your treatment, whether its passive or active care. As the phases of care progress, it's important to know what type of care or movements to change to. This assessment or "eye for the deficiency" can take years to develop. Today there are systems and seminars to attend and learn these analytical methods, but learning this way can lead to a lot of limitation and misunderstanding. I would advise students, whether they are professional level yet or not, to use the gym as your lab. Lift and learn!!!

That's a Wrap
Mike, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Your knowledge and insight is truly appreciated. We always learn something from you and hope our readers learned something as well. For anyone in the Fort Wayne area, be sure to check out Back in Action Chiropractic for the best results when it comes to your health or sport-related goals.
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