Interview with Jose Fernandez: 5 Questions

This is Part 9 of the weekly “Friday Five” series where I ask 5 tough questions to world class elite coaches.    To recap:

  1. Jumps coach Boo Schexnayder
  2. Dr. Mike Stone of the USOC and NBA
  3. Performance specialist Henk Kraaijenhof
  4. USA’s Dan Pfaff, now with UKA
  5. Pierre-Jean Vazel of the French National Team
  6. USATF Chair for Men’s & Women’s High Jump Dave Kerin
  7. Michigan State University’s Randy Gillon
  8. Harvard/UTEP/Portland State/Syracuse’s Kebba Tolbert

Jose Fernandez is a performance consultant currently based in the UK where he works with various professional Football teams as well as other sports organizations and institutes of sport.

Having played basketball in Spain, he later accepted a position as Director of Strength and Conditioning at Mersey Tigers during the season 2010/11.  The Tigers are a Liverpool based club competing in the Professional British Basketball League who became the first team in the history of the competition to win a treble in the same season. Jose still continues to collaborate with the team on a part time basis while reconciling his work in the consulting field.

Jose’s main areas of interest are:

  • S&C training for Team Sports
  • Athlete Monitoring
  • Application of new technologies for Injury Prevention and Performance Enhancement

Friday Five is sponsored by Freelap Track and Field, a leader in electronic timing.

Interview with Jose Fernandez

Freelap Friday Five

Q1 – SpeedEndurance.com:   Dan Pfaff and Pierre Jean Vazel have commented on the use of TMG to profile athletes for both performance and medical options. Could you get into detail a bit about how you see the future of muscle diagnostics in creating realistic interventions with teams? Anything promising that is currently being experimented with? Speed and power athletes are always pushing the envelope and perhaps we can get more insight to protect them from injuries but improve performance.

Jose Fernandez: Dan made a great point when he stated that even minor fatigue can disturb activation potential, rate of force development and latency of muscle recovery from extreme firing orders and how they use TMG at UKA to monitor these changes. I have been using this technology for the last four years and it is interesting to see how contractile muscle properties can show alterations up to seven days before the athlete reports discomfort or pain and up to twelve days before strength deficits are detected. That is plenty of time to anticipate a problem and act in consequence. In an environment where time is always limited, I would like teams to embrace more practical, yet precise, ways to quantify peripheral fatigue on a daily basis.

Anything promising? I am focusing on interventions these days. Why? Because many of them are not being objectively quantified in order to establish best practices, specific protocols and better scheduling. Think about foam rolling for example, simple but very popular nowadays. I recently performed a pilot study and found that those protocols focusing on trigger point pressure induce muscle activation (faster contraction times) while continuously rolling over the muscle surface seems to relax the muscle (slower contraction times). A formal research with a university in Spain is on its way to confirm these findings but in the meantime, it seems that warm up rolling strategies should differ from cooling down strategies. This could be extrapolated to any type of therapy. How much change are we provoking? How long does it remain in the muscles? When, with regards to the game, should we schedule X treatment to ensure optimal conditions?

Q2 – SpeedEndurance.com:  HRV and GPS are two technologies that seem to be gaining momentum in the US, could you expand on a holistic view of daily monitoring in a realistic and practical way? Team sports such as American Football could benefit from using such tools but sport science a bit less organized over in the United States and Canada. 

Jose Fernandez:  I understand monitoring only from an integrated perspective and don’t believe in magical mathematical algorithms that some people claim to have. Injuries are multifactorial and I feel more comfortable looking at each variable individually. Sometimes we can see patterns between them but many other times they are just random because every athlete reacts in a different way to a given stress stimuli. HRV is being around for a while and my belief is that if athletes have to drive for 45 minutes through the traffic in London before they get to the training ground and have coffee for breakfast, then it doesn’t make much sense to measure parasympathetic / sympathetic balance afterwards. I see benefits behind HRV but mobile solutions seem more practical to me and technology is only getting better, making things easier for teams from a data collection perspective.

I like to complement HRV with Sleep. Focus on quality of sleep rather than just quantity. Deep (growth and repair) and REM (neural function) sleep can tell a lot and coaches can use this information to implement simple routines. Blood Biomarkers are also important and there are some interesting solutions out there that can help with data visualization and tracking progress. But before we look at T,C and T:C, we should focus on being minimally healthy and don’t expect optimal muscle function and adequate testosterone levels when athletes have poor levels of vitamin D.   [JIMSON’S NOTE:  read my case study on low Vitamin D]

GPS is useful to quantify training load, volume and intensity. Now change GPS for RPE in the previous sentence and it makes the same or similar sense. I believe GPS is an interesting tool to have in the toolbox and the information that it provides, along with all the other indicators, can help coaches minimize guess and build a better picture of what is going on, but making decisions just by looking at GPS values seems a bit ambiguous to me.

I believe in simplicity and reliability of the monitoring process along with good data visualization protocols that end up having an impact on our interventions. Otherwise, it is just an automated process that consumes time, effort and money. It’s easy to say…

Q3 – SpeedEndurance.com:  Screening is an important part of the training process and many joint screens from physiotherapists to performance coaches are used to find ways to assess risk. What resources do you find helpful in ensuring athletes are prepared for the game and are not struggling with nagging injuries? Anything out of the ordinary besides movement screens and table tests?

Jose Fernandez:  Out of the ordinary? Probably not much! Besides sport specific movement and parallel to the individual monitoring process aforementioned, neuromuscular conditions measured with TMG and foot function are two key aspects that I use to assess athlete readiness:

TMG: Establishing benchmarks in preseason and monitoring three times a week during the season:

  1. the day after the game,
  2. after the day off,
  3. the day before the game (or the same day of the game in the morning).

My goal is to understand how athletes cope with peripheral fatigue in the days leading up to the next game. These assessments usually consists of testing one or two key muscle groups (two minutes per muscle) and look at contraction times, muscle stiffness and inter/intra muscle coordination. If the results are ok, then we carry on with the initial training plan. If we get a red flag, then we can either further investigate and perform a more in depth assessment or adding other tests that may shed some light. The whole idea is being able to adjust the training program or modify pre game strategies in consequence.

Foot Function / Gait Assessment: Many injuries are foot related and dysfunctions at this level will undoubtedly put at risk other structures up in the kinetic chain. Even minimal fatigue affects gait and foot strike, especially at high speeds, and values don’t return to normal until the athlete resumes resting conditions. Technology like video, stabilometry platforms and pressure mapping can provide important metrics for coaches and can easily be integrated within the monitoring system with simple protocols. Recently, I had the chance to meet with Dr. Bruce Williams in Boston and he certainly is a good example of how this can be done within a team environment.

Q4 – SpeedEndurance.com:  Culturally European team sports don’t seem to favor power testing for football clubs but find it valuable for Rugby. Knowing your history with basketball what do you look for in terms of benchmarking players for power in that sport? Many college and pro teams in basketball have a challenging schedule, but perhaps something practical can help?

Jose Fernandez:  Benchmarking in pre season seems pretty straightforward but following up later on in the year in a situation where teams have to deal with travels and congested schedules may be quite tricky as power and CNS activity is highly sensitive to fatigue. However, adding minimal testing like SJ/CMJ and even 15m sprint to the monitoring process at the right time (at least 72h after the previous game) on a monthly basis should not disturb our athletes and still provide coaches with some useful information.

Besides this, profiling athletes based on their muscle fiber type predominance can help better understand individual requirements. Balancing intensity is important since systematic low intensity training on muscles with large explosive component results in a negative adaptation of the physiological properties of this type of muscle, affecting the overall power outcome.

Q5 – SpeedEndurance.com:  Making changes with medical and performance methods and data collection is important, but without action or cooperation of the team coach and upper management the work is sometimes futile at best. Any guidelines of general concepts that can help teams and organizations get the winning edge?

Jose Fernandez:  Head Coaches and GM’s are not the ones to blame. As sport scientists, S&C Coaches, team doctors … we must gather information, filter the most important aspects, put it into simple words and provide accurate and constant reports to the head coach (or upper management when appropriate). Working in the consulting field has given me the opportunity to visit many teams and noticed that some of them are not generating reports or if they do, these are very deficient to say the least. Reporting is necessary, one to show progress and add value to our work and two, to continue educating our coaches if eventually we want to develop good synergies between managers and us. Ego is also a problem in our profession and we should understand that we are only advisors in one particular area of performance. Coaches and players get paid a lot more than us for a reason.

    • @OKtav, I think it has to do with a professional marketing study where spectators could “identify” with the team if it was an animal. Like Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies or Toronto Raptors. In a way, it’s like the high tech companies using color+object for domain names (bluemartini.com, pinkelephant.com, etc)

  • :) Jim I know that… I was joking… I’ve been bad… not with your guest but with the British basketball :) These are team fan words :)

    All the teams are usually named using kind of “calls” remembering animal’s features, qualities or behaviors. Still usually names are trying to establish a common point between the sport’s features and animals features… or between animals and cultural specificity of geography were the franchise is based… Grizzlies for a Canadian or American team is obvious. The Grizzly is a feared and powerful animal emblematic for some states. You will never hear a South-African team named Grizzlies. Tigers, Lions, Bulls (even we know all Chicago Bulls) raptors, sharks are names for rugby, american football, hockey teams…not for basketball ones.

    Still I could hardly understand and “accept” tigers as a name for a basketball team… but I could do it at the end. But please, there are no tigers in UK… excepting Leicester Tigers (in rugby of course :)

    Forget it!

    … Sorry for the first comment, it was a bad joke. I’ve suggested you to put some “edit” commands on your comments function in order to allow us to edit or delete after posting…

  • by the way…interesting interview…All of them!…but this is the first one which underlines the problematic of the physical preparation in collective/team sports… This problematic is basically coming from two constraints – the calender of the competitions (duration and frequency), and of course the specificity of the disciplines… In collective sports tactical aspect and skills are priority. The season (championships) could last even 9 months and more, so it is a very long period of time. During such long intervals the players shape/condition could variate from the best to the worst. That’s why is interesting to have some ” fortune instruments” and benchmarks allowing coaches to evaluate the situation/the state of players. We all know that only few professional teams have the possibility to make players blood’s analysis or possibility to use other sophisticated methods and tests in order to evaluate permanently the players condition…Sport is million times bigger or means more than professional teams or franchises. That’s why I appreciate this interview as being an interesting and useful one. It provides some ideas for field/daily working instruments…

  • … It also confirms some some “intuitions”, problematics…and eventually (even) principles and solutions to the problems.