Taylor Lewis: How Training Specialized Athletes Helps Your Everyday Clients

Specialized Training 

by Taylor Lewis

Working with the 1% population is a blessing within a blessing.

I say this because of the specialized training approach that is needed to fill training gaps, increase performance output and change lives . . . and because of the financial structure that goes into the environments that help create some of the world’s premiere athletes.

It can be one of the most exhilarating experiences of a lifetime.

It can also can be a very scary environment.

You are in a powerful position that could make or break these athletes. 

Taylor Lewis training elite athletes

What if that athlete has a rare disease that inhibits the functionality of how their body processes the metabolic components required to endure stressful environments? What if that athlete is in between seasons and it’s a contract year and they have no idea where their next home is . . . and they have a wife and kid to provide for?

If they were two different athletes would you train them in the same manner?
Could you train them in the same manner?

This article will break down the key components of training this specific group of athletes and look at how that experience relates to the everyday client.

As an essentialist (Coach) you must be able to sift through what is being said and look for what isn’t being heard from a population where mistakes make or break their career—or can potentially create life or death situations. You must look at the bigger picture: you must look at all systems, in all angles, in order to ideally create a customized program. You are the one who can find gaps in training that can benefit everyone. You are the one to develop the ideas and hypotheses that will stir an enthusiast to improve their quality of training.

[bctt tweet=”The body will you tell you what it wants you to hear. You need to listen to what it isn’t telling you. ~ Taylor Lewis” via=”no”]

Now, let’s look at this process for two different athletes. 

Client # 1
Major League baseball player:
Your client has the ability to play up to 162 games in a 180-day season.  This does not include 30+ spring training games (and if they are good enough to make postseason and go all the way through the World Series, they could potentially see 19 more games.) That is just the games played. To that, add traveling all over the U.S. to play in multiple times zones and unpredictable weather, and getting to the ball park 5-7 hours beforehand. There’s always another flight because you have to start a new series the next morning.

How can you prepare anyone for a battle like that?


Client # 2
Active individual with cystic fibrosis:
Your client is diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, the most common genetic life-shortening disease in North America. CF affects their lungs and their digestive system—it alters the secretion of mucus and changes sweat gland secretion. They also have lower resting ATP concentrations, delayed phosphocreatine recovery times after high intensity exercise, higher end-exercise pH values and inefficient absorption of salts in sweat glands.

The many variations of the disease lead to unpredictable trainability, requiring an approach to resistance training that you will not find in a textbook.


With this background information on two extremely similar athletes (yes, I meant to say similar) would you train them the same way? Would you find gaps in their training that parallel one another? Or could you even train them during the same hour, knowing that they live on opposite sides of the spectrum?

As an essential coach, you must start with the 90% rule. You must focus on the present and not the future or the past. When working with a professional baseball player, you can easily be distracted by their fame or the attention they bring into your gym. On the other side of it they can also be distracted with trade rumors or the TMZ paparazzi trying to snap a picture. You must focus on the present and what you can do to help them reach their ultimate goal as well as keep them focused on the task at hand.

If you can get them to understand that their 100% commitment during their training session will help everything take its course and, hopefully, athletic success will triumph. UFC champion, Connor McGregor, once said “There’s no talent here, this is hard work. This is an obsession. Talent does not exist; we are all equals as human beings.”

Not only do you have to focus on the present but you must understand you can only focus on what you can control. When I designed a three-month program for my client with CF, we ran into multiple barriers that expanded the program to four months. She had multiple hospital visits that set back our training. Her breathing treatments took priority and training had to be missed. I understood from the beginning that this wasn’t going to be a straight shot program, and we were able to adapt and push forward and finish what we set out to start. In the end, this was all that mattered.

As coaches we must not lose sight of what we can and can’t control or else we will lose control of what we can see. This is what we call controlled chaos and essential coaching.

Once the dust has settled and you have gained the trust of your client you need to attack their imbalances.  As Dan John says “fill in the gaps.” Every sport and specialty has an imbalanced approach which causes biases in the client and creates a bigger asymmetrical gap. Baseball players tend to rotate and dominate with one side of their body and because they get paid millions of dollars for this rare gift you can only correct so much. Your training cannot hinder their performance.

On the other side, adults with CF are sympathetic chaos and tone dominant at the expense of parasympathetic efficiency. As coaches, we must attack the imbalances without losing focus of what we can’t control.

Building foundational, fundamental movement through asymmetrical synchronization in a world of unconscious and conscious parasympathetic and sympathetic variability brings clarity to overall work capacity. This means we need to attack training with the fundamental movements (push, pull, hinge, squat, ground work, ground work) in a percentage-based approach program.

I do not mean breaking down the clients 1-RM max and using their percentages to develop a program. Nothing against this method, but when you are working with high-level athletes there are too many variables to be able to sustain this progression throughout a full program. How do you have a client finish a phase at 85% max deadlift when they decided to fly out to their friend’s bachelor party for a few days and then head off to Hawaii with their wife at the last minute and you have to postpone their training till they get back? Or your client phones in to cancel because their therapy was intense and they needed to rest because their body was taxed?

You cannot simply have them come in a week later and start right back at that percentage that they were supposed to do last week. You have them start back at that most recent lift and adapt accordingly. Remember, it’s not about how much they lift, but rather how many times they can get that quality movement in before they have to head off to spring training.

It is key to focus on the bang-for-your-buck type exercises but your approach to developing the program is key and you must have four vital components in your program that guide the fundamental human movements.

The Four Components
In order to be able to optimally use the fundamental human movements—push, pull, hinge, squat, loaded carry and ground-based exercises—the brain (what we like to call the “hard drive” in the fitness industry) and the body must be comfortable, understand and ‘strive to thrive’ in four components during each movement:

Positional Breathing,
Neural activation,
Deceleration and
Acceleration in internal and external rotation.

Gray Cook stated that you can only own an exercise if you can breathe in that exercise, and his words led me to explore this three-dimensional continuum. Think of it like a squat, if you ask someone to squat without any coaching or cueing, nine times out of 10 there will be a movement flaw that needs to be corrected. This is not necessarily because they are inefficient at squatting—their brain and muscular system just have a disconnect and the synchronization is off, causing poor movement quality.

Having clients work on breathing explores this same concept. If you do not coach them into a better pattern before they breathe, then all they will do is thrive in their sympathetic nervous system, resulting in poor movement production down the road.

When working with clients with CF, I use postural positioning before I load them, so that I can decrease asymmetrical sympathetic efficiency. This led to their ability to cough up more mucus, clearing the lungs and over time, improving performance. From this, I believe that all clientele can benefit from positional breathing, providing the body adaptive qualities geared for and not limited to synchronization of improved movement patterns.

Once you have improved the quality of position you need to let the body work in multiple neurological, neuromuscular states of mind. This is where neural activation comes in to play. I remember intently watching a heavyset man step off a bus in front of Wrigley field before the Cubs game. He had no sense of awareness and used every ounce of effort to stabilize so he would not fall. His brain’s ability to own deceleration and send messages at a high rate to get his muscles to stabilize and slow down was not working, so he had to use external stabilization causing his system to adapt in an inefficient manor. If he was to trip, I surmise that he has a higher likelihood of falling (and thus increased risk of injury) because of his disconnect with the neural activation needed to decelerate.

When you create a new position in your programing, it is critical that you give the neuromuscular system that “caffeine” needed to fire responsively and progressively at a faster rate. That will maximize comfort in that new position so that when a quick movement causes the body to challenge its balance and special awareness kicks in, there is a high chance that they will be able to break and decelerate in a manner that gives them the opportunity to thrive in a conscious, sympathetic state.

When our clients get older, we, as coaches, tend to shift to the side of caution when it comes to training. This is understandable because we do not want to hurt our clients. In reality, we need the clients to move the neuromuscular system through various joints in a quick manner for short bursts so they can keep the integrity of their fast twitch muscles. Muscles are always contracting and relaxing at high rates of force—even when you see a client move slowly.

If we let the system slow down the output and do not understand that true deceleration is accompanied by acceleration through a continuum of internal and external rotation, then we are setting our clients up for failure.

Warms-ups are a great time to work on these short bursts of movement because you can make it a low-threshold window to reeducate the body on the four components. Every time you go through a gait cycle you are using all the components. You don’t realize it because the range at which you express each movement is only quantified by your unconscious sympathetic and parasympathetic state moving through all fundamental movements. (This is its own can of worms we can talk about later.)

I am a firm believer in maximizing your warm-ups through focused three-dimensional movements. When you get someone to lunge and own deceleration and then have them flex and rotate into the front leg (hip internal rotation) then drive off their heel and big toe (hip external rotation) and stand tall, they have now owned every component of the three-dimensional continuum in a very simple exercise.

These are your bang-for-your-buck exercises and they do it every day anyway, so why not consciously be aware of it so it becomes an unconscious movement.

Mastery is in the warm up, not the actual lift.
Once you have mastered the movement patterns in such a quality that the brain is working efficiently to thrive in multiple directions, the addition of the fundamental movements locks the system into place. This where the gaps can be filled—you can determine where in the system you need to reduce the asymmetries.

Having the luxury to work with high-level baseball players and adults with Cystic Fibrosis, I saw many similarities that transferred over to my everyday clients. They both:

  • Needed to pull a lot more than they needed to push.
    Lived on their right side causing them to live in their right hip (locked hip internal rotation).
    Did not understand how to get out of it (which then causes their deceleration, flexion, internal/external rotation and acceleration, which in turn causes their synchronization to falter) and transfer into their left hip (locked hip external rotation).
    Battled issues causing increased unconscious sympathetic tone and inefficient movement adaptations.

Watching this daily led me to have all my clients work on a low-impact positional breathing exercise to start the day. During the workout, I challenged them in a higher threshold breathing exercise such as planks—but for breaths rather than time, allowing them get comfortable on both sides of the spectrum. The end results:

  • A major leaguer playing over 145 games when he hadn’t player over a 120 in the nine years he had been in the league . . . and,
  • An adult able to clear more mucus from her lungs than ever before.

Why? They both installed the right software to control the hardware in both an unconscious and conscious state of production.

The body will you tell you what it wants you to hear. You need to listen to what it isn’t telling you. If you are able to get your clients to own and build foundational, fundamental movement through asymmetrical synchronization in a world of unconscious and conscious parasympathetic and sympathetic variability, then you truly have created a machine that will last until it’s time to retire.

Want more from Taylor on his methods for specialized training and how it can benefit your everyday clients? Taylor’s new lecture, Training the 99% with the 1% Methods goes deeper into his experiencesTaylor Lewis strength program.