Interview with Alwyn Cosgrove

Posted by Jason Ferruggia on January 19, 2007

Originally written for EliteFTS in 2005

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you get started?

AC: I was a competitive martial artist – LOVED to fight. After winning a few fights, and losing a few I realized that the people I beat, or didn’t beat knew the same martial art as I did. This fascinated me. How could one man beat another man, who had the exact same knowledge about fighting? Strategy plays a part, but that’s part of what you should already know. It kind of hit me that the only thing separating the winner from the loser was how they applied the techniques. How fast they moved. How hard they hit. How long they could go for. When technical skill was identical between two competitors, the strongest and fastest athlete will win almost 100% of the time. In other words it was fitness and conditioning that would end up determining who took home the gold. With this in mind, I started studying physiology, and the methodology of training. This engulfed me. I went to college in Scotland to study it, continued on to a college in England to study some more, and to this day over 20 years since I first walked into a martial arts class I still spend about an hour or so each day still researching the best physical preparation methods the world has to offer.

Q: I know you competed for years in martial arts, can you tell us a little bit about that?

AC: My career ended with seven national titles, five titles in five different weight classes and several international medals. I was prepared to fight anyone, at any weight, confident that my superior conditioning methods would carry me through. It usually did, and as a light middleweight fighter I managed to beat the national champions at both middleweight and at light-heavyweight in the same year. My training was actually ahead of it’s time back then. My only mistake was I did way too much endurance training and not enough raw strength work.

Q: When did you decide you wanted to do this for a living and how did you go about embarking on this path?

AC: It was while in college I started being approached by other athletes to help them, with their training including a National level rugby player, and the captain of the track team. And then two Taekwon-do fighters moved to where I was enrolled in college to have me advise them on their training. They both won the nationals that year. This was a good time for me – as I was learning training theory and methodology academically, and actually applying it at the same time –figuring out what works in the research may not work as well with real athletes in real situations – not too many people get to experience both approaches at once. It really helped ‘fast-track’ my development. I think that’s when I realized that my obsessive studying and note-taking wasn’t normal. Maybe I had something to offer. I continually researched and refined what the science showed would work, what the real world showed did work, and what the top strength coaches in the field had shown had worked. This concept of continually refining the training methods continues with me to this day. After graduating college I left the shores of Great Britain and headed for the United States. I ended up at the US Athletic Training Center in New York City, where my learning continued under Gary Guerriero – the owner of the center. With his help I was exposed to the training of Olympic Athletes, Professional football players, dancers – a whole new world. Now I was getting paid for something I’d do for free!

Q: Who were some of your biggest influences when you were getting started and who continued to guide your path as you went?

AC; I studied under anyone and everyone Jay. Seriously I own more training books than most Borders or Barnes and Noble stock!! I fell into the guru worship BS for a while (i.e. brainwashed) but I regret nothing – it was all a learning experience. I’ve been guided by a ton of people. There are those that really helped me, and there are those who are nothing but scum. They all know who they are.

Q: Who do you respect in this business, who do you learn from?

AC: I learn more form conversations or emails from guys like you Jay, than I ever get from a book or a science journal. Guys that are in the trenches, who’s income depends on getting results – these are the guys you need to listen to. They give me more info than you could get in a year of reading books. There are a LOT of top “names” in this industry who don’t have any athletes training under them. In fact they have no clients at all. Yet – with the birth of the internet – these guys have the guru status.

Q: How has your approach to training evolved over the years?

AC: To quote Bruce Lee – Absorb what is useful, Reject what is useless and add what is specifically your own. It has evolved to include more non-traditional types of training – but don’t misinterpret this – the basics are still the single most important part of any program. If you don’t have the “big rocks” in place – your squats, your rows etc, the rest is just details.

Q: How does your approach to training differ from the norm and what do you do that stands out as a major difference from how most people train athletes?

AC: Every athlete needs flexibility. Every athlete needs strength. Every athlete needs speed. I’ve never seen an athlete who was too fast, too strong or too flexible. What do I do that’s different from the norm? The “norm” is so f-ing bad that the main difference is I get results. No bullshit. What do most people do? Aerobics for fat loss. Body part split routines etc I think aerobics is one of the biggest lies in the fitness industry.

Q: For many years, when we were young and innocent, you and I were suckered by many of the same scam artists in this business, if you learned anything from that experience what would it be and what can you take away from that experience as a positive?

AC: Ashwagandha in 3g divided doses does NOT increase your Scott Curl 11.5% (in-joke there). I learned that the Wizard of Oz is nothing but a little man hiding behind his ego. When you pull back the curtains – the mystique is gone.

Q: Ha-ha, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Speaking of that, what are the biggest scams and worst training gimmicks out there today?

AC: Far and way the winner is aerobic training for fat loss. My opinion on most training methods is they have their place (as long as you respect the BIG rocks theory). It’s just that crappy trainers tend to overemphasize them. There’s always an overemphasis in the short term and an under-emphasis in the long term. Think about stability ball work for example. Can it be useful? Absolutely. Should you do every single exercise in your routine on a ball, on one leg and get so good that you could make Cirque de Soleil but still not be able to lift ½ your bodyweight in a Deadlift? Of course not. (And no disrespect to the Cirque De Soleil performers. Those guys are strong.). The overemphasis by certain idiots is a bigger problem than any of the methods themselves. And anything written by __________. (Name deleted in order to be politically correct) That guy’s a complete clown. I can’t believe he’s still around. His big comeback a few weeks ago made my stomach turn.

Q: What are some of the most important tips you could share for some one looking to get into the business?

AC: Commit to being a student. Learn from everyone. If you don’t learn something about your craft everyday – you’re going backwards. Just yesterday I purchased two training books and a DVD. It only takes three years of studying an hour per day, to become an expert in anything you want. And the sad fact is, most of us spend an hour a day doing something. So in three years you’ll be an expert on that same something. So it’s your choice – sports conditioning, business? Or maybe it’ll be ‘Friends’ or ‘Seinfeld’ reruns! Interning with people is the fastest way to get to where you want to go. You’ll learn more in a one-on-one conversation with a good professional in the field than you’ll learn in a year on your own. And remember – you have to invest in your own education. You’re going to have to spend money to learn. But you’ll make it back tenfold.

Q: I know you are big into assessment and body weight training. Why is this so important and what impact does it have, etc?

AC: Assessment – if you’re not assessing – you’re just guessing. That’s the key. I look for certain things when I assess a client, use certain tests. All it does is fast track my program design to get the most bang for your buck. A power lifter has the numbers that they lift – an MMA fighter for example doesn’t have that same feedback. So I’ve developed a system of checks and balances that can really help me get results fast.

As for bodyweight training –I’m constantly amazed by how many people I meet who can bench press whatever pounds of weight, but are unable to perform 10 correct push ups (typically due to a lack of core strength and synergistic muscle stability. As far as I’m concerned – unless you can do an easy twenty push ups, you have no business getting under a bar for bench pressing. In my training facility everyone begins with bodyweight exercises. You have to earn the right to lift weights in my facility.

Q: I couldn’t agree more. If an athlete wants to get faster, what are the five most important things he must focus on?

A: The ability to stop (seriously if you can’t decelerate – your body will not allow you to accelerate) so training the antagonists is key. Maximum strength. Relative Strength. Posterior Chain strength. Explosive Power.

They are in no particular order but if I had to choose only one to focus on – it would be maximal strength. You get a guy stronger and pretty much everything else improves.

Q: Jim and Dave have said that if you over think it makes your program stink. I, for one, feel the exact same way. What is your take on this? Do you think some people take the science end too far and analyze everything to death and suffer from paralysis by analysis?

AC: Absolutely. But people need to remember that guys like Jim and Dave are instinctively writing GREAT programs because of years of experience and years of study. If they over-think it, it will suck, as their initial gut feeling was usually correct. So I totally agree with that.

However some of the programs I see out there – over-thinking it isn’t the problem. I wonder if some of these guys even think at all!!

You need to focus on training the qualities that are: 1- Needed: for example: is maximal strength necessary? 2- Underdeveloped: maximal strength is usually underdeveloped and could likely use some improvement. 3- Highly trainable: maximal strength is fairly easily improved for most athletes 4- Foundational to other qualities: maximal strength is foundational to speed strength and to strength endurance. So we can make the assumption that maximal strength training for most would be a good choice in where to focus your efforts. It is needed, usually underdeveloped, easy to improve and will also improve other qualities. A no-brainer in where to spend most of your training time in other words. This ‘streamlining’ of program design is what I refer to as the BIG ROCKS theory (rocks in a jar). I get asked all the time – what do you think of the Swiss Ball, of chains, of rubber bands, of plyometrics, of speed ladders etc. My answer is the Big Rocks theory. Picture a jar packed to the brim with big rocks. Can you fit anything else in the jar? At first glance, no but if you think about it – you can fit some small rocks. Is it full now? No – you can still fit some pebbles in there. Is it full now? No – we can still add some sand – is it full now? Still no – we can now pour in some water. Now it’s full. So understand that all these bells and whistles and magnificent pieces of equipment are like the water. Its fine, it fits and it can serve a purpose – as long as you didn’t forget to put in the big rocks. By the way – even after you fill the jar with water – there’s still some room for beerJ Which just goes to show you – there’s always room for a couple of beers !

Q: That’s what I always say. Before we wrap this up here, Alwyn, I would like to play a quick word association with you. I’m just going to throw some stuff out there and you say the first thing that comes to your mind.

AC: Okay.

Q: Stability/ balance training?

AC: Water in the jar (See above). But still the single most over rated training factor ever.

Q: Louie Simmons?

AC: Probably the greatest strength training mind on the planet.

Q: Ten sets of ten?

AC: What a waste of time.

Q: Drug testing in sports?

AC: Behind drug usage. An exercise in futility.

Q: Rap or rock?

AC: Rock.

Q: The number one thing some one can do to gain size?

AC: Eat, lift, sleep, and repeat. Add weight to the bar and food to the plate.

Q: As the newest member of our staff, what is it that our readers can expect you to bring to the table and deliver to us on a monthly basis?

AC: A Scottish accent? Hopefully a slightly different approach to training, delivered with no bullshit and no holds barred. I’m not the most politically correct guy in the World so it will be nice to be able to let rip on a censorship free website, instead of a mainstream magazine (where I have to bite my tongue). So if you don’t like what I have to say – you can kiss my hairy Scottish arse.